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Ministers of Safety and Security, how prepared is South Africa?

So $2000 is stolen from the plush Johannesburg hotel rooms of the visiting Colombian football squad last week ahead of a warm-up tournament between Colombia and South Africa on the weekend. The dangers of arriving in Johannesburg from Bogota and thinking your valuables are safe. Besides the obvious security tips for foreigners arriving in SA including keeping one’s valuables secure, no walking in unlit parts of any South African city at night and generally being aware of surroundings and those in close proximity, all the fans and players should be safe and be able to enjoy a pleasant experience provided there are no light-fingered hotel employees around. So where does the real danger lie? The United States government has issued a terrorism and crime alert to all their citizens both living and visiting South Africa during the World Cup tournament. Rumours of a possible Al Qaeda threat to the massive sporting event have been downplayed by the South African government as unsubstantiated. This threat stems from an Al Qaeda militant being detained in Iraq who allegedly was plotting an attack on the Dutch and Danish Football teams during the month-long World Cup. The Dutch supporters which were originally going to consist of a high percentage of European visitors arriving in the country have halved citing high costs of travelling to a long haul destination and perceived safety threats to their national team. With so many teams converging on South Africa in the next twelve days from such diverse nations as Mexico, Korea Republic, Serbia, Algeria, North Korea, Denmark, Netherlands and the USA security issues are definitely a priority. With tensions between Korea Republic and North Korea rising in recent months due to a sinking of a South Korean naval ship in March, those are two teams, should they both make it through to the semi-finals would provide a fascinating match. While the South Korean team has its base camp in Rustenburg, North Korea team has been doing training in Zimbabwe, an old ally to the beleaguered country still grappling with a precarious unity government. The South African government has spent R1.3 billion extra into training for security personnel in preparation for the FIFA World Cup. Hostage Simulation exercises has been performed at the new King Shaka International Airport north of Durban by a specialized SWAT-equivalent unit able to deal with hijacking and security threats. These specialized police units have simulated exercises for a range of crisis situations from hijacking to an air disaster. 41000 SA Police Officers have been deployed for the month-long sporting event, along with cutting edge military and information communication technologies and the availability of a fleet of 40 police helicopters during match days in any of the 9 host cities. The British government has set up rapid response security teams in neighbouring countries surrounding South Africa including Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to be in close proximity to evacuate its citizens should there be any perceived or real threat to the English Football teams and the large contingent of fans which will naturally be following their team to every game around South Africa. The US government has poured R2.3 million ($300 000) into the training of South African security personnel in explosive-detection and diffusion of chemical, nuclear, radiological and biological weapons during the month-long event. So the South African Ministry of Safety and Security with the help of co-operating international agencies are prepared for every eventuality. However the threat of any perceived or real danger during the World Cup especially aimed at the US or British teams have its roots in the possibility of a Sudanese terrorist group with links to Al Qaeda operating out of a Northern Mozambique training camp. So the possibility of terrorism during the event as in any other parts of the World but especially in South Africa is not being ruled out. The 1998 images of the massive destruction caused by the US Embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam are always fresh in the minds of any Government or law-enforcement agency drawing up security contingency plans relevant to Africa. Besides the readiness of South African security forces, on Match days the FIFA stadia will be sealed off with strict egress control, and visitors will only be allowed into the stadia after a range of prohibitive items have been confiscated by security officials ranging from any form of weapons, both cultural and military, to fireworks, to gas spray cans to motorbike helmets and umbrellas. As fans arrive at Stadia across South Africa they will have to co-operate during security inspections and body checks similar to going through airport security leaving one country and entering the world of FIFA. Huge security perimeters and no fly-zones will be in place around the Stadiums during match days, for FIFA has experience in staging these events successfully before with minimal risk in Germany in 2006 and South Korea in 2002. The rest of South Africa and those visiting fans that do not have tickets will have to watch from the Fan parks or the comfort of their secure homes and hotel-rooms provided no values are left lying around. If sport is a substitute for war then why should there be fears about safety and security? It’s precisely for that reason that sporting matches are a perfect environment for waging a war both real and imaginary. Any possible terrorist threat has been factored into the rigid safety and security plans for the 2010 World Cup which has been the case in all major international sporting events especially since the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. As examined strict security measures are in place, so as long as fans and players alike abide by the rules. Let’s be confident that the 2010 FIFA World Cup will be a great success in terms of security and commercially especially in a country which was the inspiration for the 2009 international hit film District 9. In this case, it won’t be a ruling of no aliens allowed, just a case of no non ticket-holders allowed.

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