JOHANNESBURG: Giant footballs and national flags line the streets as South Africa counts down to the World Cup, but with two months to go until kick-off, fears about violence and racial strife linger.
As the June 11 opening match nears, Africa’s much-anticipated first World Cup is materialising in football fever with South Africans donning team jerseys, flying flags and a marketing onslaught by host cities.
But concerns about violence and racial tension in the crime-plagued country have re-emerged after the murder of a white supremacist leader.
The killing of Eugene Terre’Blanche, allegedly hacked to death after a wage dispute on his farm, has focused new attention on violent crime and race tensions in South Africa after his supporters initially vowed revenge.
“It’s not going to happen,” local organising committee chief Danny Jordaan said Thursday.
The South African government, which has spent 33 million rands (US$4.5 million, 3.4 million euros) on the tournament, hopes to give a boost to the country’s image, luring foreign tourists and investment.
It is also counting on the event to build national unity in a country that still bears the scars of apartheid 16 years after the end of the segregationist regime.
On April 15, South Africans will for the first time be able to buy match tickets at sales windows instead of online, coming away with tickets in hand.
World Cup banners and football jerseys have become ubiquitous, and street vendors’ stalls are dripping with football gear.
Adding to the air of celebration, FIFA announced last month that the June 10 kick-off concert in Johannesburg will feature such international celebrities as Shakira, Alicia Keys and the Black Eyed Peas.
Recently, national flags have been flying from car windows even in white neighbourhoods, where football has never been popular, and giant inflated footballs have dotted host cities.
Last month the police department said it would deploy 41,000 extra police and keep the army on a “state of alert” during the tournament.
The country’s security measure also received a nod from the Interpol, which last month said it was satisfied with the country’s security plans.
But South Africa has in recent months seen scores of violent protests over shoddy public services in poor neighbourhoods, and violence over a new bus networks to overhaul long-neglected public transport ahead of the tournament.
The cities’ collective mini-bus drivers, who for decades enjoyed a monopoly as the apartheid regime, have protested violently against the systems.
As the June 11 opening match nears, South Africa’s worries also extend to the mediocre performance of the national side Bafana Bafana (The Boys), who will play Mexico at Soccer City in the curtain-raiser.
Coach Carlos Parreira said the team needs to improve its fitness and ball possession.
“If there’s one thing I’d like to see the team do much better, it’s in valuing the ball possession,” he told journalists.
“If you see games here in the league, it’s like table tennis. Go and come, go and come. Nobody keeps the ball.” — AFP