SOUTH AFRICA, our guide announces, has first-world infrastructure. The roads bear him out as do the airports and hotels. Yet for 2010, the Cape Town International is undergoing massive expansion and a new terminal is coming up in Durban. Given that all seven flights, including the one from Mumbai, over the past week arrived either before or on time, you could say the airlines work too.
Tourism is the biggest contributor to the GDP and the country, rich in agriculture and minerals, is Africa’s only automobile manufacturer and its wine industry is over 300 years old. There were some 10 million tourists last year and the number is growing, said a representative of South Africa Tourism travelling with our group of international media.
Yet the rainbow country is combating unemployment, lack of housing facilities, illiteracy, illegal migrants, power cuts, crime and inflation. Last week there were huge processions in Port Elizabeth and here following a strike by the COSATU, a congress of trade unions, protesting, among other things, rising electricity costs. On Wednesday, newspapers front-paged the death of six people following a fight with the security forces during an evacuation from a central Pretoria residential area. Even there, reports of the successful evacuation had enough proof of world-class facilities in a society battling growing inequality.
Describing apartheid as “one of the greatest human rights abuses the world has known”, Heidi Holland, author of the best-selling Dinner With Mugabe, described South Africa as “a gigantic psychiatric unit… in a state of collective denial, apparently oblivious to the need for introspection”.
And writing for ‘The Star’, a Johannesburg daily, Itumeleng Mosala, urged for the need to nurture democracy.
In the midst of all this, 10 cities are readying for 2010 in earnest. A lot of construction is happening to improve cities, five new stadia are being built and countdown boards have sprung up at airports.
From communication companies like Vodacom and MTN to freelance tourist’s guides, everybody wants a ride on football’s biggest event.
Of the four stadium sites we visited, only the representative from the 2010 office at Johannesburg’s Soccer City said it was behind schedule. “Instead of the first week of May, 2009, we will be complete by the last week of the month,” he said.
At a radio programme where HT was invited, a London journalist, reacting to the scepticism about whether South Africa will be ready, mentioned how one year before the Athens Olympics, the city mayor was “near tears” about its state of unpreparedness. Another sport scribe visiting South Africa now said the same about Sydney who “presented the most memorable Olympics” in a long time.
Convinced that FIFA would get behind an event which is a challenge for any country, Sir Alex Ferguson is sure South Africa will be equal to the task. Like Beijing, South Africa too should be ready. FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s message to Nelson Mandela on his 90th birthday hoping to see him in 2010 is perhaps based on that assumption. Next year’s Confederation Cup will be a test but calamities notwithstanding, the game park country should in two years have the game of a lifetime.