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.