/ 11 September 2009

SA’s World Cup welcome suffers from shortage of hotels

South Africa on Friday promised England fans a warm welcome at the 2010 World Cup but fears persist over a high crime rate, extortionate hotel prices and inadequate public transport. As the scramble for flights, accommodation and match tickets began in earnest, visitors were urged to use official tour operators and beware scams. The local World Cup organising committee insisted that all fans were welcome and space would be found for everyone.

”We are very excited about England qualifying,” said Rich Mkhondo, a spokesperson for the committee. ”We are happy for any England fan to come: those who have tickets and those who don’t, who will be accommodated in the fan parks.”

Despite a recent strike by construction workers, progress on all 10 World Cup stadiums appears to be on schedule, with the flagship Soccer City, which will host the final, now a spectacular addition to the Soweto skyline. But other logistical issues remain a source of anxiety.

Fifa’s accommodation agency is believed to be facing a deficit of 9 000 hotel rooms for the half-million international visitors expected. Thirty-five hotels are being built and space has even been booked in neighbouring countries including Mauritius, which would entail a 17-hour round trip to see one match. Prices for hotels and guest houses in the smaller host cities have already rocketed by up to five times. Rates vary from R1 000 to R30 000 per night, with luxury suites rising to R49 000, the Star newspaper reported. One beach villa was asking R75 000 a night. A shock could also be in store for impulsive fans who pitch up with a tent and hope for the best. The tournament will take place during the South African winter when temperatures can plunge well below zero at night.

Mkhondo said that more than 6 000 hotels had now been officially graded and would be available to supporters. ”We have no worries about accommodation at all,” he said, although he did acknowledge that fans may face long commutes. ”There will be an aviation lift. If, for example, a game is played in Bloemfontein, there will be planes taking off up to midnight to get fans back. There will be some negotiation with the airlines over prices.”

But Heidi Holland, an author and owner of the the Melville House hotel in Johannesburg, said: ”Accommodation is going be a problem. The organisers are relying a lot on small operators like me. A lot of people have been contacting me asking to stay a few days but my instinct is to hold off for now. People are a little bit at sea.”

South Africa’s hosting of the Confederations Cup earlier this year was judged a success with the exception of transport. A complicated park-and-ride scheme led to long queues, traffic jams and convoluted journeys. A public bus system has since been launched in Johannesburg, with other cities to follow, but proved so controversial with minibus taxi drivers that one bus was hit by gunfire. Inter-city rail services deserve better than their notorious reputation, although a trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg takes more than 26 hours.

Most fans are likely to use coaches or hire cars and will find South Africa has decent roads.

Crime and security remain major concerns. An average 50 people a day are murdered in South Africa, which saw a sharp increase last year in burglaries, car hijackings, hold-ups in stores and the blowing up of cash machines. There have been incidents of tourists being followed and hijacked after arriving at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo airport.

The country’s police National Commissioner, Bheki Cele, has announced a new crackdown and said he wants to toughen the law to allow police to ”shoot to kill” armed criminals. Some observers believe the purge is timed to clean up the country’s image. Jeremy Gordin, a journalist and biographer of South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, said: ”That’s what I think it’s all about. They’ve been clearing all the people off the streets.”

Gordin added that the police were not usually overzealous compared to other countries, but warned: ”If there’s a pitched battle between Turkish and English fans, and some serious racist abuse of the police, it could get out of hand.”

Organisers have sent a strong message that racists will get short shrift in a country where apartheid ended only 15 years ago. Danny Jordaan, the chief executive of the organising committee, said: ”Should they come they will very soon discover that this country has had a long history of struggle against racism and they’re going to be very uncomfortable in this country. So we’ll suggest to them they shouldn’t come.

”They won’t find anyone — whether it’s the police, or ordinary South Africans in the street, or the person on the plane when they fly, or when they arrive at the airport — in this country is going to tolerate hardened racism. So you must tell them, please, if you want to be racist, don’t go to that country. We can suggest other countries to go to but not to that country. That country is not going to tolerate racism.”

The World Cup has also raised fears that thousands of women and girls will be trafficked to South Africa to work as prostitutes. Some campaigners are pushing for prostitution to be decriminalised as a means of sidelining criminals, protecting sex workers and combating HIV/Aids. – guardian.co.uk