SA top cop on World Cup safety

2010-02-23 12:37

SOUTH Africa’s top cop said yesterday that the 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 on June 11.

In an exclusive interview with Associated Press, National Police

Commissioner Bheki Cele said the World Cup’s legacy for police has meant new

equipment for his force and training with experts from Britain, France, Germany

and the US.

“The question is, ‘will people be safe in South Africa?’” Cele

asked yesterday. “Starting on the 11th of June, people will be safe in South


The commissioner said nothing he can say will be as persuasive as

what the World Cup fans will experience, adding that he is determined to see to

it that all the fans – local and visitors – will go home to tell a South African

success story.

South Africa’s crime rate, among the highest in the world, has been

a major concern since it won the bid to become the first African host of

soccer’s World Cup.

“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.

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. The country’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 the job last year, said preparing for the World

Cup has galvanised his force.

Preparations have included recruiting 55?000 new police officers.

New equipment worth R665?million includes six helicopters, 10 mobile command

vehicles, body armor 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 all these officers will work as advisers with

the South African police and not have arrest powers.

Cele said he set himself three priorities when he took the

commissioner’s office: 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 and 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.”

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