Post-World Cup South Africa
    2010-09-08 21:30:50      Web Editor: Zhang

Just two months after the World Cup, the Soccer City stadium looks old as if it had been obsolete for quite some time. [Photo:]

By Zhang Zhang

High expectations for huge profits from surging inbound tourism, massive investment in urban construction as well as a stimulus for future development have always motivated countries to try and host the FIFA World Cup, or even the Olympic Games, at any cost. But when the games end, the host nation may find reality sometimes deviates from expectations.

South Africa ended up unique in the history of both the World Cup and within the African continent, which embraced the most popular sporting event for the first time after an eighty-year wait.

The successful tournament, which was devoid of violence and doping scandals, maintained a good reputation throughout while reaping soaring revenues for the country. But what did the tournament mean to its people and how will it affect the country for years to come?

In a misty winter morning in late August, we landed in South Africa's largest city of Johannesburg which hosted the opening and final matches of the 2010 World Cup just two months ago. To our surprise, the city looked as if nothing special had recently taken place.

In addition to a few posters at the airport and a railway put into service prior to the World Cup, we found nothing else related to football on our way to the hotel that sits next to the Emperors Palace - the most popular casino in Johannesburg.

Customers flowed in and out of the casino day and night, and their passion for gambling only withering slightly at dawn or during live telecasts of rugby games, once the favorite sport of local white residents, and still the most influential sport in the country, even more so than football.

Linda Leung, a Hong Kong emigrant who has been in South Africa for more than twenty years, said she could hardly feel the instant effects of the World Cup on the country except in a transient prosperity in employment and a hike in income as there was a new direct flight on British Airways from London to Cape Town.

As a senior tour guide, Linda and her colleagues worked nonstop every day throughout June and early July. She remembered almost everything was in shortage during that time, and that even school buses were hired to carry travelers, while teachers were invited to work as temporary guides.

The tournament brought in more than 5 billion US dollars in revenue for South Africa, and created about one million jobs while nearly every employee in the tourism sector received double their pay during this period. However, Linda said the heyday did not last long.

"The World Cup looked like a 'honeymoon' for South Africa. When it ended, many people lost jobs again and as foreign tourists left, the situation returned to normal C sporadic customers in supermarkets, while more and more vacant rooms grew in hotels."

But the World Cup inspired local citizens to become closer to each other and rendered the country an opportunity to show the world its attractions, Linda said.

"It's amazing to see everybody, whatever, white or black, rich or poor, fully enjoy the sport, putting behind anything unpleasant. In stadiums, audiences sang songs and danced together, hugged each other to cheer for the goals and victories in the reverberating noise of Vuvuzuela."

"People from outside Africa learned about the beautiful landscapes, comfortable environment, top-level education and health care services in South Africa, making them more interested in coming back to our country in the future."

The World Cup was also a remarkable milestone for the whole continent, smashing a traditional view that Africa is mostly related with severe poverty, incurable diseases and insufficient public services, she added.

Lounging in downtown Johannesburg on sunny days was a pleasant experience. But most foreigners were advised to tour certain areas and return to their hotels before sunset over safety concerns. Reports of theft, robbery and rape have made the country notorious for its crime, and several foreign journalists were indeed robbed during the World Cup which further tarnished the country's image.

Driving along a street in downtown JNB, you can hardly find anyting related to the World Cup. [Photo:]

Linda admitted its bad security records had impacted the development of local tourism and caused the less-than-expected tourist flow during the World Cup. She even had to give up on a plan to teach local kids Chinese in rural areas considering the situation.

But compared with the high crime rate, Linda said inadequate police efficiency and rampant offenses by fake officers are even more discouraging and that many victims prefer not to call the police unless they have been seriously attacked.

"If you report a case to the police, you will never exactly know when they will come. The wait may be several minutes, half an hour three hours, everything is possible. And what's worse, the victims were even sometimes robbed again by false policemen before real officers rushed in."

The locals are still not confident with the police even if they maintained a smooth World Cup. And if you were there, you might also have been disappointed with them. On the day of our arrival, a local newspaper, The Star, reported on its front page that an officer who crashed his car and killed a passenger and then fled the scene, was still at large.

In contrast to Beijing which has maintained traces from the 2008 Games, and has a comprehensive plan to utilize the legacy of the Games, South Africa seemed unprepared for its post-World Cup period.

Located some 10 km southwest of the city center, Soccer City stadium hosted all the key events of the World Cup including the opening ceremony and the final match between Spain and the Netherlands. But just two months later, the stadium looked old as if it had been obsolete for quite some time.

In the sunshine, the bright-colored stadium looked dull and dusty as a result of insufficient maintenance. When our car stopped at the only accessible entry, there was nobody there except several guards and a vendor selling shabby souvenirs. No box office was open and each entry required 80 SA rand (11 US dollars) C that would be R70 for group travelers. Everyone was shocked and surprised over the condition of the stadium, and our driver Elizabeth Nkohla even asked why we chose to visit it.

Linda said unlike Beijing, which has renovated its major Olympic venues for commercial purposes, the local government has no such plans thus far. She suggested the government should implement what the Chinese have done and hold concerts, performances and other profitable activities at the stadium in order to make a profit to fully or at least partly cover the stadium's maintenance expense.

When we arrived in the city, there was a large-scale strike by civil servants underway. Linda said people should not expect the World Cup to be effective in every aspect, as constant growth depends more on a stable and safe society.

"The political unrest has reined in the confidence of foreign investors. More than a decade ago, many people invested in the manufacture sector in South Africa, but now, the industry has declined with its decreasing investments but rising employment rate, posing a threat to future stability."

However, Linda remains positive about the future. She believes tourism, a backbone of the country's economy, will prosper more since the World Cup successfully advertised South Africa to the world.

"The tourists at the World Cup must tell their friends how impressive South Africa is and their publicity may lead to a larger tourist inflow some day. As for themselves, they may also return for another visit. The only thing we can do at this time is to wait and be prepared."

A bird's eye view of Gandhi Square from the "Top of Africa" tower in downtown Johannesburg. [Photo:]


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