Page last updated at 09:48 GMT, Tuesday, 12 January 2010

South Africa World Cup 'safe' despite Angola attack

Soldier looks at stadium

By Pumza Fihlani
BBC News, Johannesburg

The horrifying attack on Togo's football team in Angola has sparked a flurry of alarmist stories in newspapers around the world questioning South Africa's ability to stage the World Cup.

Officials organising the South Africa tournament have moved quickly to dismiss those claims.

We do not need to be reminded by incidents happening in other parts of the world to know what we should plan for
Police spokesman Vish Naidoo

In a radio interview Irvin Khoza, chairman of the 2010 local organising committee, stressed the distance between his country and Angola.

"The challenge posed by the attack is the misconception that Africa is a country, not a continent," he told SA FM.

"People in the world are thinking of Africa as one country... we don't share the same border with Angola... it's not even close to South Africa," he said.

It is more than 1,500 miles (2,500 km) from Luanda to Pretoria - with Namibia or Botswana sitting in between the two nations.

'Ready for anything'

As well as the physical distance, South African officials are keen to emphasise the difference in scale of their security operation.

More than 1.3bn rand ($170m; £109m) has been spent to beef up security for the tournament.

South African police officers walk past giant football (file photo)
South Africa's police force is confident it is well prepared for the World Cup

South Africa's police force has bought helicopters for air surveillance, acquired mobile police stations to be stationed at all key venues and will supply a 24-hour ground patrol using more than 40,000 specially trained officers and private security guards.

The military has also been called in to provide additional security.

Police spokesman Vish Naidoo said his force was "ready for any eventuality" - but added that people should be careful not to compare what happened in Angola with the risks in South Africa.

"People should be assessing South Africa on its own merit, not on the merit of other countries," he said.

The attack does serve as a reminder that high-profile international sporting events are a hugely attractive target for terrorist groups trying to get the maximum publicity for their cause but Mr Naidoo remains confident.

"We do not need to be reminded by incidents happening in other parts of the world to know what we should plan for," he said

"We have been planning for this event since May 2004."

Sharing information

Togo's national team was attacked soon after their arrival in the Angolan province of Cabinda on Friday to play in the Africa Cup of Nations.

Gunmen killed an assistant coach and the team spokesman and left eight others wounded.

The coffin of one of those killed arriving back in Togo
Togo pulled out of the Africa Cup of Nations because of the attack

Separatist rebels from a faction of the Front for the Liberation of the State of Cabinda (Flec) claimed responsibility.

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) think-tank agrees that the authorities are well prepared for any security threat.

"South Africa's intelligence agencies will have received information from different high-risk countries along with their input on threats posed and South Africa would have then prepared adequately," said ISS researcher Johan Berger.

He says the attack in Angola should be looked at solely in the context of Angolan politics.

"You have a liberation movement which has been around for years deciding to exploit an international event for their gain - South Africa does have not that kind of situation," he said.

"It is unfair to conclude that the incident in Angola now raises questions about the security in South Africa."

Worlds apart

Anyone seeking seeking similarities between the two countries will struggle.

South Africa
Population: 49.3m
Income per head: $5,820
Major gold producer, diverse economy
11 official languages including English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu
Ended decades of white minority rule in 1994
Held regular elections ever since
Population: 18.5m
Income per head: $3,450
Major oil, diamond producer
Languages: Portuguese (official), Umbundu, Kimbudu, Kikongo
Thirty years of civil war ended in 2002
Still to hold presidential elections
Sources: Stats SA, World Bank, UN

South Africa has never faced a separatist insurgency even during the tumultuous apartheid era.

Both South Africa's economy and politics are laid on far stronger foundations than Angola's.

The current Cup of Nations is Angola's first major international sporting event.

But South Africa has staged a number of international sporting events - including rugby and cricket world cups.

The nation also played host to India's cricket Premier League last year precisely because India could not provide enough security.

Al-Qaeda-linked groups have staged attacks in several African countries but not South Africa.

However, last year, the US briefly closed its consulates in the country because of an unspecified security threat.

But Mr Berger says South Africa's biggest problem is crime, not terrorism, and says the police do "exceptionally well" at providing security for major events.

"Because of the high crime levels in South Africa and the international attention, South African authorities to their credit went out of their way to make sure that we have all the necessary resources," he said.

With several hundred thousand football fans expected to make the trip to South Africa in June, a few robberies and muggings are almost inevitable.

But if that does prove to be the worst security incident of the month-long football extravaganza, the authorities will count that as a success.

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