South Africa’s Transport System Gets an Overhaul in Time for World Cup

Johannesburg International Airport - Complete Facelift

The final stages of preparation for the June 11th kick-off of the football World Cup are being put in place.  One of the world’s biggest sporting events is being held for the first time on African soil.  South Africa has spent billions of dollars preparing for the event, including more than $2 billion upgrading transportation networks.   The first impression of many foreign fans arriving for the football World Cup will be the five-story-high arrivals hall at Johannesburg’s extensively refurbished international airport.

The South African government has spent nearly $700 million on this airport alone.  It has nearly doubled passenger capacity at Africa’s largest airport from 17 million passengers a year to 28 million. It has also linked the domestic and international terminals and modernized ticketing counters, shops and food outlets. President Jacob Zuma last month inaugurated the new international airport at Durban.  He said it came as the country prepared to experience what he called the largest wave of aviation traffic in its history. “We are thrilled by the fact that we are able to present the World Cup in a South Africa that is going through a huge building and reconstruction phase,” he said. The billion-dollar facility can handle more than 7 million passengers and 50,000 tons of cargo a year.

The government has also modernized and nearly doubled passenger capacity at the airports of Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth.  The upgrades are to help meet an ambitious goal of increasing tourist arrivals from 10 million per year to 15 million in the next five years. More than $2 billion have been spent upgrading overland transportation.  Construction has begun on a new, high-speed railway line linking Johannesburg and Pretoria.  The first link, between Johannesburg’s financial center, Sandton, and the airport is to be open in time for the World Cup.

A new, 500-vehicle rapid-transit bus system is also being rolled out in the country’s largest cities. The improvements to infrastructure are not just for the thousands of foreign fans who will visit during the tournament.  They are meant to support the country’s growing economy for decades to come. Special efforts have also been made to improve security and deal with any terrorist threats at the country’s transportation hubs.  Although South Africans say there may be some minor problems during the Cup, many see it is an opportunity to showcase their country and the hospitality of its citizens.

Mozambique police on Tuesday dismissed a South African newspaper report saying the country was home to al Qaeda training camps that could launch an attack on the World Cup. South Africa could be hit by a militant attack during the tournament that starts on June 11, South Africa’s Sunday Times said in a report on Sunday, quoting an investigative group and other sources. The paper quoted the director of the NEFA Foundation, which investigates possible terrorist activities, as saying that Pakistani and Somali militants were running training camps in northern Mozambique and their trainees may have already crossed into South Africa.

A spokesman for Mozambique’s police dismissed the report at a news conference on Tuesday. “It’s impossible that a terrorist group might have established such camps here,” said Pedro Cossa. South African officials have long said the country’s non-aligned status and a lack of substantial local support for militant groups should insulate it from attacks during the June 11-July 11 event. A major even like the World Cup is bound to attract controversy but it seems the authorities in South Africa are determined to prevent any lapse in security.

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