Billions of eyes look toward South Africa's World Cup

Miami HeraldJune 6, 2010 

"Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear." — Alan Paton.

Much has changed in South Africa since Paton wrote those words in his famous 1948 novel Cry, the Beloved Country. His main character, the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo, would be delighted. In fact, he might even celebrate the progress by blowing into a "vuvuzela," the long plastic trumpet used by South African soccer fans.

Apartheid was abolished in 1990, following worldwide condemnation of the racist policy. Civil rights leader Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison, won the country's first multi-racial democratic election in 1994.

And this week, the eyes of nearly a billion television viewers will turn to South Africa as it stages the 2010 World Cup, the biggest sports show on Earth and first ever held on African soil. The tournament, June 11 to July 11, promises to be a defining moment, a chance for the once-fractured nation to reshape images and dispel stereotypes.

"Ke Nako!" is the tournament motto. Translation: It's Time!

A country and continent associated by Westerners with famine, disease, brutality, poverty, and crime has been entrusted with the quadrennial 32-team soccer tournament. More than 350,000 visitors are expected. Organizers, politicians and the South African people are eager to show another side of their country — modern airports and roads, state-of-the-art stadiums, posh hotels and restaurants, wineries, safaris, and shopping malls. They want to promote tourism and commerce.

Surely, they will put on their best face. Televised games from Cape Town will feature Table Mountain as a scenic backdrop, not the Cape Flats, a drug- and gang-infested area of the city.

South African organizers are determined to prove they can, indeed, pull off a global event, despite what the skeptics think. They have promised to curtail crime, provide adequate transportation and lodging, and fill stadiums in nine cities.

South Africa spent $3.7 billion on improvements to its infrastructure, everything from upgrading airports to lighting highways to building five new stadiums and improving five others. More than 40,000 police officers and unmanned surveillance planes have been mobilized to patrol one of the most crime-ridden countries in the world. There are 50 reported murders a day in South Africa, the same rate as the United States, which has six times the population.

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