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Can 'Mzansi' host a safe World Cup?
by Mike Woitalla, November 27th, 2007 7AM



Mike Woitalla reporting from South Africa
A picture of Nelson Mandela adorned one side of the fan's large sign and on the other side was the message, "Tell the world that Mzansi for sho is the safe place on Earth." The fan was among the 45,000 spectators at the Soweto Derby, the Orlando Pirates vs. Kaizer Chiefs game that took place in Durban in conjunction with the World Cup Preliminary Draw. Convincing fans that "Mzansi," a nickname for South Africa, will be a safe destination is the critical challenge for World Cup organizers.

On Nov. 23, Deputy National Police Commissioner Andre Pruis explained why he's confident that fans will experience a safe World Cup in a nation the BBC has described as "the most dangerous country in the world which is not at war."

"It's very important to distinguish between preventing and combating crime in general and to deal with a major event," said Pruis, the second-highest ranking law enforcement official in a nation in which 17,000 murders were committed last year.

"In a major event you have a lot of known factors," he says. "You know the airports, the routes. Inside a city, you know to a large degree where people will stay. You know where the restaurants are, the pubs are, the tourist attractions, and, of course, the stadium."

Pruis said that 85 percent of South Africa's murders are of a "social nature," in which the perpetrators and victims know each other. And he made comparisons to the United States.

"When I visited New York," Pruis said, "the police pointed out areas of the city that were unsafe. There are 1,115 police stations in South Africa and 85 percent of the contact crime - murders and robberies - occur in 169 the station areas."

Pruis believes World Cup tourists will generally not venture into high-crime areas and that the areas in which they are likely to go will be vigorously patrolled.

And despite South Africa's high crime rate, 2006 set a record for tourists with 8,395,833 foreign arrivals, according to South African Tourism. The country has hosted several major events, such as cricket, rugby and track & field world championships, without major incidents.

By 2010, the national police force will have increased by 31,000 to 195,000. During the World Cup, 31,000 police officers and 10,000 reservists will be deployed specifically on World Cup security.

"It's control," Pruis says. "I know where certain things do take place. Once you have control over a situation, security becomes much easier."

Police will also work with private security firms in some areas, such as in-stadium security. (There are 320,000 registered security guards in South Africa.) The nation's military will also contribute to the effort.

About $95 million has been allocated for new police equipment and the police force will have up to 40 helicopters at its disposal. A police budget increase of another $95 million will help cover deployment for the World Cup.

"In terms of making resources available, I can't complain," said Pruis.

The "tourist protection plan" will target popular tourism destinations.

"What we have done is check which are the places frequented most by tourists," Pruis says. "The tourism protection plan is a new dimension where we want to place temporary members at tourism hot spots to liaise with tourists and if there's a problem, there are trained police members to deal with it."

In order to focus on violent crimes and robberies, Pruis has suggested the decriminalization of prostitution.

"I took a hiding for that," said Pruis, who will continue to propose creating demarcated areas for prostitution and drinking in public.

On the morning of the World Cup Preliminary Draw, the Sunday Tribune led with a front page headline: "Thumbs up for Durban," referring to reports that the city, which will host five games, is ahead of schedule in its preparations. The news was tempered with the subhead, "... but the murder of Austrian tourist on the South Coast sours World Cup razzamatazz."

The news of the shooting death of Austrian soccer management agent Pieter Burgstaller Friday was indeed a major blow to South Africa's safety campaign. Burgstaller was murdered at a golf course not far from where the World Cup Preliminary Draw was held in Durban. U.S. coach Bob Bradley had visited the resort last week on an inspection tour of potential World Cup 2010 facilities at which to base the U.S. national team if its qualifies.

"We deplore that as we deplore all crime," FIFA President Sepp Blatter said. "But in a city of more than 3.5 million some crimes are possible as they are possible in all other countries.

"Friday evening in a tram station in Zurich a young girl of 16 years old was shot. In Zurich, Switzerland. Crime is everywhere. And Zurich has a population 10 times less than Durban."

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