South Africa’s top cop said on Monday that World Cup fans will be safe, and the country will be safer because of the work his force has done to prepare for the tournament which begins in June.
Police National Commissioner Bheki Cele said the World Cup’s legacy for police has meant new equipment for his force and training for his officers
with experts from Britain, France, Germany, the United States and elsewhere.
“The question is, ‘Will people be safe in South Africa?'”‘ Cele said on Monday. “Starting on the 11th of June, people will be safe in South Africa.”
Cele said nothing he can say will be as persuasive as what World Cup fans will experience. He is determined that they go home telling a South African success story.
South Africa’s crime rate, among the highest in the world, has been a concern since it won the bid to become the first African host of the tournament.
“One thing I would never do is to deny that there is crime in South Africa, especially violent crime,” Cele said.
But he said crime was decreasing, a point independent researchers also have made. The South African Institute of Race Relations said in a study last year that the number of murders and
the rate per 100 000 have declined steadily since South Africa held its first all-race elections in 1994.
Perception that crime is worsening
The institute, however, said the South African public still believed crime was worsening. That may be because crime, while falling, is seen as intolerably high, and because rates have been so high for so long, the institute said.
The World Cup has focused global attention on South Africa’s crime rate and how it stacks up internationally. South Africa’s murder rate per 100 000 citizens was 38,60 in 2006, compared to 0,88 in Germany, where the last World Cup was held.
Cele, who took over last year, said preparing for the World Cup — which starts on June 11 — has galvanised his force.
Preparations have included recruiting 55 000 new police officers. New equipment worth R665-million (about $88-million) includes six helicopters, 10 mobile command vehicles, body armour and water cannons.
About 200 Interpol officers will be in the country during the monthlong tournament, along with up to eight officers from each of the 31 countries sending teams. Cele said they will work as advisers with South African police and not have arrest powers.
Cele said he set three priorities when he took the post: improving police stations and other infrastructures in impoverished areas; improving officers’ skills and supplying them with cutting-edge technology.
The World Cup has allowed South African police to make advances in all those areas, he said.
“We are working with everybody that is willing,” Cele said. “Our police will be better skilled after 2010.”
With just over 100 days until the tournament starts, Cele said police were finalising details such as where officers would be deployed and ensuring they had training that corresponded to their assignments.
Cele spoke like an experienced soccer fan about an early match he would like to see pitting Portugal against Brazil in his hometown of Durban, one of nine host cities.
“But I’m not sure if I’ll be there,” he said. “My major task is to make sure that people enjoy 2010. So it can’t be me that is enjoying.” – Sapa-AP