I fervently pray that the World Cup will bring real hope to this benighted country. So why the heavy heart?
Sadly, too late for common sense. South Africa should never have been awarded the Soccer World Cup. If anything, Fifa held all the cards and could have asked South Africa to show that crime and corruption was under control prior to awarding the country the cup. If SA took 20 years to show this, then so be it. Instead, the country has gone downhill faster since being awarded the tournament with crime and murder out of control. None of the liberal media seems willing to tell the truth as it stands today but they found a lot of energy to jump up and down when Apartheid was still in place. South Africa was NEVER this bad under Apartheid. We had law and order and the Blacks enjoyed the best education and life expectancy standards on the whole of the African Continent. What price have their people paid to have bragging rights? The highest HIV/AIDS; rape and murder stats; woeful education and crumbling hospitals; shoddy justice and police departments; lower life expectancy; and so the list goes on. You can’t make a silk purse out of sows ears…
Hat tip: REXTRUT
Keeping guard: Police watch the every movements of football teams after the Colombian national team had money stolen from their hotel
Arriving at Cape Town airport — renovated at enormous expense for the World Cup, which kicks off here in less than a fortnight — my eye was caught by a newspaper story.
Headlined ‘Be good — just for four weeks, pleads Zuma’, it was a rather desperate-sounding appeal from South Africa’s President, urging the many villains in his crime-ravaged country to suspend the murder, rape and plunder, if only for the duration of the tournament.
It didn’t sound much to ask. After all, this is the first time an African nation has been trusted to stage the planet’s biggest sporting spectacle, and more than 400,000 visiting fans plus a global TV audience of 26 billion will be watching to see whether it measures up to the task.
However, within two days I discovered, first-hand, how effective Zuma’s entreaty is likely to be.
Having been robbed here several years ago (my passport and wallet were taken from my hotel room), I decided not to bring much cash or even traveller’s cheques.
But I had been in South Africa for only a few days when I was alerted by text that my credit card was being used at cash-points all over town and I’d been fleeced of £1,300.
I still have the card, but it seems someone had cloned it and copied the pin number.
As a journalist, I have travelled to more than 100 countries and no one has stolen so much as a brass washer from me. Yet I have been to South Africa half a dozen times now, and it has happened twice.
Of course, it could just be bad luck. This sort of thing goes on all over the world, after all, and in the end all it cost me was a few hours of hassle.
Then, this week, a World Cup hotel where the Colombia squad are staying (they’ve not qualified for the tournament but are in South Africa to play a friendly) was targeted and £1,800 was stolen from the players’ suitcases.
But, it was the reaction of people here — or rather the lack of it — that told me all I needed to know about the nature of this so-called Rainbow Nation.
One police official seemed surprised I was even bothering to report the theft. My friend, Fanie, who has risen admirably from a poor township to become a top photographer, just shrugged.
‘Welcome to South Africa,’ he said. ‘Now you know what life’s like here.’
His words were still echoing a few hours later as I gazed from my 16th-floor hotel room in Cape Town’s swish new Waterfront development. The breathtaking view is dominated by two landmarks which together symbolise the historic significance of the country chosen to stage next month’s World Cup.
In the near distance, rising from the Atlantic shoreline like a gigantic upturned seashell, stands the magnificent new 4.5 billion Rand Green Point Stadium, which will stage eight of the games, including England’s second match, against Algeria.
On the far horizon lies the mist-wreathed outline of Robben Island, the forbidding rock where Nelson Mandela was held in a tiny cell and put to work in a lime quarry for 18 of his 27 years in prison.
Stadium and island are separated by just a few miles of choppy grey water, but there is no denying how far the country has journeyed in the 16 years since the fall of apartheid.
If we believe President Zuma, hosting the World Cup will represent another giant stride.
Sepp Blatter, head of world football’s all-powerful governing body, FIFA, trots out the same message — that it will transform the lives of millions of people, rich and poor alike — justifying the £3 billion it has cost to stage.
They point to the five futuristic new stadiums, the new roads and transport links, the thousands of jobs (forgetting that many have been allocated to lowly-paid immigrants, sparking a frightening xenophobic backlash) and the billions that will flood back into the economy.
This is without the unquantifiable benefits South Africa will reap from showcasing its beautiful scenery and cultural heritage; and above all from proving to the world that it is able to stage an event as efficiently as Germany or Japan.
Yet . . . much as you want to believe all this World-Cup hype — and I fervently wish the tournament is the glorious occasion that it deserves to be — there are contradictions wherever you turn.
If the tournament was really designed to benefit Africans, for example, why is it that only 13,000 of the 2.9 million match tickets — less than 0.5 per cent — have been sold to people in other African countries?
The answer is simple. At FIFA’s insistence, the vast majority were available only via the internet, and to buy them you needed to possess a credit card, commodities very few Africans possess.
Why have street vendors been booted off their market stalls near the World Cup stadiums? Is it for fear that fans might buy their cheap replica team shirts and flags instead of the exorbitantly-priced official FIFA merchandise (all made in the Far East) and eat local food instead of buying a pricey burger at McDonald’s, the tournament’s official caterer?
And why were South African musicians initially denied the privilege of performing at the opening ceremony alongside American stars such as R Kelly, only being included on the bill after threatening to steal the show by putting on an alternative concert?
So much for all the triumphal pronouncements that staging the world’s greatest sporting event here is a ‘victory for football and a victory for Africa’.
The harsh realities will hit England’s expected 50,000 travelling fans as soon as they leave Cape Town’s swish new airport. They will be confronted by a shameful scene that has been known to reduce first-time visitors to tears.
It is difficult to summon the words to describe the squalor of the vast shanty town that unfolds beside the motorway leading to the city. More than a million people are corralled into tiny shacks built from rusting, corrugated iron, sheets of polythene, cardboard and plywood: anything that they can muster.
There is no running water or electricity (though resourceful residents sometimes rig generators to the traffic lights), and the foul-stinking streams and ponds are open sewers.
Football here means a barefooted kick-about on some disease-ridden rubbish dump.
Hardly surprisingly, it is in these anarchic cauldrons that South Africa’s huge problems are rooted: seething hatred for the wealthy white minority and the burgeoning black middle classes; mass unemployment; rampant HIV, drug abuse and alcoholism; and, of course, crime.
The country’s 49 million population is 12 million smaller than Britain’s, but each year 18,000 people are murdered (a rate 27 times higher than ours); there are 200,000 serious assaults; 18,400 house robberies and a shocking 380,000 rapes.
Back in 2004, when South Africa was awarded the World Cup, the millions trapped in God-forsaken shanty towns rejoiced with the rest of the nation, for it seemed to promise them so much.
One of the fundamental principles was that the stadiums and accompanying infrastructure should benefit the most impoverished communities.
In Cape Town, for example, it was broadly agreed that a new stadium should be built in Athlone, a vast township of grim, concrete tenement blocks where people classified as ‘coloured’ were confined under the iniquitous apartheid regime.
Not only would it bring new jobs and a sense of pride, but the improved transport system would allow people to seek work elsewhere in the city.
But it was clear that a ghetto like Athlone clearly wasn’t what FIFA envisaged when they offered football’s glittering prize to Africa. After all, the new showpiece stadium, which has been built in an affluent white suburb and has Table Mountain as its scenic backdrop, would look so much nicer on the TV.
But this, in essence, is how it came to be built in an area where no one has the slightest interest in football and which is utterly inaccessible to the vast majority of fans.
As a result, there are worries it will become a white elephant after the final whistle sounds.
Meanwhile, the old Athlone stadium has been given a facelift. But in their determination to prettify the area for the world’s gaze, the local authority has embarked on a ruthless ‘sanitisation’ programme.
Far cry: Blikkiesdorp, or ‘Tin Town’, houses more than 350 people who were forcibly evicted from their ‘eyesore’ hostel in Athlone and dumped here as part of the World Cup ‘sanitization programme’
It evicted 365 men, women and children from a particularly unsightly hostel beside the main road and shoved them many miles away, in a hellhole where few tourists will venture.
They have been dumped with thousands of other homeless people in a place known as Blikkiesdorp, or Tin Town, a fly-blown camp of aluminium huts which makes the shanty towns look comfortable by comparison.
‘Why didn’t they use all those billions they spent on building the stadiums to build houses for us to live in?’ asked Margaret Bennett, a mother-of-five whose family were rounded up and moved.
‘There are no shops near here and my children have to walk for four hours just to fetch a loaf of bread. The huts flood when it rains, and this place is full of diseases.
‘This is what the World Cup has done for us.’
It is a story one hears repeated across the country. But there are other reasons why many ordinary South Africans feel betrayed by empty World-Cup promises.
The country’s public health service is falling apart. Only this week it was revealed that 181 babies have died in one East Rand neonatal unit since January.
Hundreds of people are also having their operations postponed — in order to keep beds empty in case of a terror attack, a stadium disaster or some other emergency during the tournament.
There is mounting resentment, too, among the staff at Cape Town’s crumbling Somerset Hospital, where the BBC has built its rooftop £1 million studio, with magnificent views of Table Mountain.
Gary Lineker and his pundits will perch safely atop the relatively modern maternity wing, but last weekend part of the ceiling in the 150-year-old forensic unit collapsed.
‘Thankfully, the nurse had just left the room. If not, she might easily have been killed,’ specialist Dr Paul Theron told me, suggesting the billions used on the adjacent football stadium might have been better spent building new hospitals.
Then there is the danger of crime, the great unspoken fear that is never far from one’s mind here.
Determined to prove it is exaggerated, the government has recruited 41,000 extra police officers and spent millions on a high-tech arsenal including weapons, helicopters and battlewagons.
They have also set up 54 special ‘World Cup courts’ at a cost of £4 million to process the expected glut of tournament-related crimes.
Barricaded behind a high wall in his smart, white Cape Town suburb, however, Smiley van Zyl, a 55-year-old skincare company owner, has one question: ‘How does jacking up World Cup security for a few weeks help people like me?’
More than 18 months ago, his wife of 33 years was shot dead by a car hijacking gang as she waited for the electronic gate at their home to open.
It tells us much about South Africa’s justice system that the first time her 25-year-old alleged killer was supposed to appear in court, officials forgot to collect him from prison.
And, incredibly, it has since been revealed that he was on bail at the time of the shooting — even though he faced 156 charges, including a string of armed robberies and attempted murder.
I’m told that most accused are able to obtain bail for a few rand no matter how serious the offence. Many then abscond, or bribe police officers to ‘lose’ their files so the case has to be dropped.
The townships are run by ruthless gangs such as the one thought to have killed Mrs van Zyl.
The suburb of Athlone is dominated by two of the most notorious: the Americans, an old established mob, and their upstart young rivals the Playboys.
They are battling to control the trade in two drugs that are endemic here, a form of crack cocaine called ‘unga’, and ‘tik’ the local name for crystal meth.
And as their respective patches are adjacent to the revamped World Cup practice stadium, running gun battles frequently erupt in the streets — alongside the pitch where England are expected to train.
Having met the Playboys’ leader, a sinister 21-year-old named Kiyaam Jovies, I can’t say I share the police’s confidence on safety.
The young gang boss removed his outsized shades to show me how his eye had been shot out.
‘The bullet is still in my head — they can’t move it because I’d lose my sight in the other eye.’
He then offered to take England fans on ‘a guided tour’ of his patch — something I certainly wouldn’t advise, having already found to my cost that crime is impossible to avoid in this country, no matter what precautions you take.
I have made friends in the Rainbow Nation and enjoyed good times here, so this is not a story I relish telling. Yet, amid all the giddy hoopla, it needs to be said.
But I’ll be delighted if my scepticism proves unfounded.
So let’s cross our fingers and hope the first African World Cup turns out to be a magnificent, trouble-free celebration of sport and culture, and marks a new beginning for this benighted country.