Soccer fans undeterred by crime ahead of World Cup

South African extremists are warning countries about sending
their soccer teams to a “land of murder” after a notorious white
supremacist was bludgeoned to death only 10 weeks before the World
Cup.

Tour operators counter that the high-profile slaying hasn’t led
to cancellations and that many coming already knew South Africa has
high rates of violent crime – some 50 murders a day. FIFA also says
it is pleased with the country’s security arrangements.

“It’s a murder that’s happened, there’s murder happening all
over the place” around the world, said Steve Bailey, CEO of South
African tourism wholesaler EccoTours, which is handling thousands
of British World Cup tourists.

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 soccer’s World Cup. The tournament kicks off June 11 and
hundreds of thousands of visitors expected to descend upon the
country.

South Africa’s 50 murders a day translate into 38.6 for every
100,000 citizens, compared to 0.88 in Germany, host of the last
World Cup. South Africa’s murder rate actually dropped slightly
last year, but the numbers of car-hijackings and rapes
increased.

Britain’s Daily Star newspaper published an article Monday
headlined “World Cup machete threat,” claiming machete-wielding
gangs were roaming the streets of South Africa after Eugene
Terreblanche’s killing and that England fans could be caught up in
violence.

The article caused outrage in South Africa amid concerns it
could frighten away tourists.

“People are waiting to see if there will be retaliation. If
there’s retaliatory violence, that will have a massive effect – it
could be disastrous for South Africa and the World Cup,” Bailey
told The Associated Press.

Terreblanche’s extremist Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging movement,
better known as the AWB, had vowed to avenge his death. One of the
suspect’s mothers told AP Television News that Terreblanche was
killed Saturday in a wage dispute after he had failed to pay them
since December.

The AWB retracted the threat this week, renouncing violence and
calling on its members to be calm. The AWB, though, warned
countries sending teams to the World Cup that South Africa is a
“land of murder,” and not to do so unless they were given
“sufficient protection.”

World Cup matches will be played in nine cities in South Africa,
but none will be held in Ventersdorp, the nearest town to where
Terreblanche was slain, about 110 kilometers (68 miles) northwest
of Johannesburg.

The country’s ruling ANC party has slammed the AWB for advising
teams against playing at the World Cup.

“We don’t think that it’s the right thing to do,” ANC
spokesman Jackson Mthembu told The Associated Press. “This is a
World Cup for all of us, not only black people of this country. And
we have to give all the support we can for the World Cup to happen
here in South Africa.”

The Association of British Travel Agents, which represents the
majority of tour operators there, said it is extremely unlikely the
high-profile slaying would discourage people. Many travelers have
already made their World Cup bookings and there have been no
queries about canceling, it said.

There was a similar response from Tourvest, a South
African-based tour provider handling 80,000 foreign World Cup
tourists and SA Tourism, the state tourism development company, as
well as the Football Supporters Federation, a 142,000-strong body
representing fans’ interests in England and Wales.

“The British holiday-maker takes a very pragmatic view of
possible risks, and will only consider canceling trips if there is
a very real danger,” said Sean Tipton, spokesman from the British
travel agents.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s travel advice to
fans remains unchanged: making sure they have somewhere to stay,
stay on tourist routes and remain vigilant.

“I can imagine that people might be a little anxious, and we do
have that perception of South Africa as a crime-ridden country,”
said Wendy Tlou, spokeswoman for SA Tourism.

She said people should not be concerned about “isolated
incidents,” but added: “We won’t be able to stop every
pickpocketer.”

Interpol secretary-general Ronald Noble, on a tour of security
facilities in Johannesburg last week, said he was satisfied with
South Africa’s plans. The World Cup will have the largest ever
deployment of Interpol officers at any global event, with 20 to 25
countries providing additional manpower for the monthlong
tournament.

FIFA told The Associated Press it is “pleased with the strong
commitment of the South African authorities to do everything
possible in their power to ensure a safe and secure event.”

Zweli Mnisi, spokesman for the South African Minister of Police,
emphasized the country’s “comprehensive security plan” and said
there was no need for additional measures since Terreblanche’s
death.

“Buy your tickets, enjoy the games, leave security measures to
the police,” Mnisi said.

Associated Press Sports Writers Stuart Condie in London and
Gerald Imray in Johannesburg contributed to this report.