Ã¢â‚¬ËœSA can do itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢
A week earlier focus had fallen sharply on the dangers posed by the country’s high crime rate with television images of four policemen ‘ killed in a shootout with armed robbers in Johannesburg ‘ being seen around the world.
Eight of the armed robbers were killed in the bloodbath in central Johannesburg after a daylight gun battle that looked closer to a scene from a Hollywood movie than reality.
The shooting raged in Jeppestown, east of the Johannesburg city centre, and barely a kilometre from Ellis Park Stadium.
That the incident happened closer to a stadium that will be key in the 2010 World Cup programme was a key victory for the mob opposing the coming of the globe’s greatest football show to South Africa.
The mob has repeatedly used crime as one of their weapons in their campaign to convince the world that football fans will be sitting ducks ‘ for ruthless armed robbers ‘ when they come to South Africa in four years time.
The Rainbow Nation suffers one of the highest rates of violent crime in the world with about 20 000 murders recorded in 2004.
The fears over the building of stadiums, an unreliable and inadequate public transport and rise in violent crime had fuelled suggestions that the tournament could be moved to Australia.
The Australians have been bouyant since they did very well at the World Cup finals in Germany this year and, clearly, are likely to stage a better World Cup finals than South Africa.
Bafana Bafana’s defeat to Botswana in a Cosafa Castle Cup hardly helped matters in a country where football morale is at its lowest following the team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup finals in Germany this year.
But there is a silver lining in the dark cloud that has been engulfing the Rainbow Nation.
Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson ‘ one of the most influential people in world football ‘ believes South Africa can host a successful World Cup in 2010.
The Scotsman was in South Africa for two weeks with Manchester United who played in the annual Vodacom Challenge Cup.
Ferguson gave a fair assessment of what he saw and said while there was still a lot of ground to be covered, he had no doubts about South Africa’s potential to do very well when the showcase rolls into town in four years time.
“It’s a big challenge for South Africa, but it’s such a good country and there is so much enthusiasm that I think it will all work well,” Ferguson told reporters.
“The important issues they face are to add more stadiums to the ones that are already built, because you will need 10 stadia to operate in the World Cup.
“The transport system and security of the fans is another issue, particularly for the fans who are coming into South Africa.
“The Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg was absolutely fantastic and what really impressed me there was the floodlighting. It was incredible, the best I’ve ever seen.
“I know they are going to do some renovations there for 2010, but as the stadium is at the moment, there is not a lot wrong with it.
“Newlands in Cape Town is an old stadium, but it creates a fantastic atmosphere.
“They are also already planning to build a new stadium in Cape Town and also in Durban, so progress is being made.”
The local organisers have also gone a gear up in their preparations.
Last week Danny Jordan, the chief executive officer of the local organising committee, told parliament that a whopping US$858 million will be needed to build new stadiums and renovate others for the World Cup finals.
Jordaan, one of the most respected football leaders on the continent, told MPs that four new grounds will be built and others will be refurbished with work getting underway at the beginning of next year.
There will be a new stadium in Port Elizabeth ‘ the first of the major projects where work will get underway in October.
Already the Cape Town mayor has agreed to give the organisers the green light to build a new stadium for the World Cup finals.
The stadium will cost about US$420 million and the town’s mayor Helen Zille agreed to the project on condition that the Government foots the entire bill.
Zille wants Cape Town to host the opening match and one of the semi-finals to justify the expenditure and construction of a new stadium.
“We can not end up with a situation like in Montreal when the grandchildren of the people who made the decisions for the 1976 Olympics are still paying the bill,” Zille said.
A German firm of architects will design three of the stadia being built for the showcase.
Jordaan believes that despite all the fears surrounding expenditure the World Cup showcase will be a huge success for Africa’s biggest economy.
“The World Cup will deliver an overwhelming positive outcome in economic terms,” Jordaan said.
He revealed that they have been given US$458 million by Fifa for the project.
About three million tickets will be sold for the 2010 tournament with about one third going for the domestic needs, a third for foreign fans and a third for Fifa’s partners.
Jordaan believes that there could be about 350 000 to 400 000 visitors coming to South Africa in 2010 specifically for the World Cup finals.
Huge crowds came to Germany for the World Cup this year but Jordaan believes it would be impossible to have such big numbers considering the geographical location of South Africa.
“This is because of our geographical position and the cost of long distance travel,” he explained.
But South Africa’s neighbours are ready to cash in on the World Cup finals.
On Thursday South Africa hosted a high-profile seminar for the 2010 World Cup finals which attracted its neighbouring countries.
The seminar, which ended yesterday, was held in Polokwane.
A host of high-profile speakers at the seminar included the chairman of the South African World Cup organising committee Irvin Khoza, who is also the owner of popular club Orlando Pirates.
Khoza gave the Sadc countries an insight on “building a winning team” with all the nations benefiting from the showcase.
The Johannesburg businessman has repeatedly stressed that the countries in Southern Africa should all benefit from the coming of the World Cup south of the Limpopo.
There were also presentations from banking giant Absa who led a panel discussion into the financing of infrastructure development for the tournament.
South African companies are bracing for a boom in business when the World Cup comes into town and mobile phone giant ‘ MTN ‘ have already signed a deal with Fifa for the tournament.
Zimbabwe ‘ the second biggest economy in this part of the region ‘ has gone through some tough times since the turn of the millennium.
Now the land sandwiched between the Zambezi and the Limpopo ‘ which calls itself Africa’s Paradise ‘ believes that the World Cup will help it turn around its economy.
The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority attended the seminar in South Africa.
“This is an important seminar that will give us a chance to show what Zimbabwe and Southern Africa can offer beyond South Africa’s borders during the World Cup,” ZTA chief executive Karikoga Kaseke said.
“I think it will be a very crucial session to speak on what Zimbabwe can offer because South Africa have indicated that they want the World Cup to be an African perspective and not just a South African perspective.
“I think after this seminar we will have direction on where Zimbabwe can place itself both for tourism and on the field of play and it would be very nice if we qualify and have our Warriors among the teams at the World Cup finals.”
The clouds of gloom that had gathered over the Rainbow Nation appear to have dispersed and the country ‘ with a little help from a number of friends ‘ is now taking steps into the future with renewed hope
The challenge lies with Southern Africa to ensure that when the world comes to this part of the globe they will take home great memories.