South Africa’s neighbours vie for slim pickings for 2010 World Cup

Harare/Maputo, Nov 24 (DPA) Some time over the next six months Miriam Vambe hopes to be boarding a plane for the first time, directly to South Africa.

Most Zimbabweans undertake the long journey across the border to South Africa by bus, bumping and grinding over roads riddled with potholes. But world football body FIFA is not short of the price of a plane ticket.

If her application to be one of 15,000 volunteers at the World Cup in South Africa next year is successful, Vambe can expect to travel in some comfort.

The 34-year-old teacher and single mother of two from Harare is one of 449 Zimbabweans who have applied to help out at the event. From her school alone, in the capital’s high-density suburb of Highfields, seven teachers have applied.

“It will be such a great experience and probably my only chance to attend a World Cup match given my salary,” she says. “Plus, I am sure they (FIFA) will pay us more than our monthly salary (between 150 and 175 dollars a month).”

The volunteer programme is one way in which South Africa’s neighbours hope to get a look in on a tournament that has billed as Africa’s World Cup but in reality has become a very South African affair.

Of the 15,000 volunteers spots, around 80 per cent have been reserved for South Africans, against approximately 10 per cent for the rest of Africa and 10 per cent for the rest of the world.

When it comes to tickets, South Africa’s neighbours get no special treatment whatsoever: The cheap tickets are reserved for South African residents only. For the rest of Africa, the starting price for a ticket is an exorbitant $80.

“I think it will be a bit limited for us,” Botswana’s President Ian Khama told German Press Agency (DPA) in September when asked what he expected from the World Cup.

“As I speak to you now I cannot state categorically what benefits it would bring to Botswana,” he said.

One way South Africa’s neighbours aim to cash in and put themselves on the map is by attracting teams to train on their turf in the run-up to the tournament.

From Zimbabwe to Zambia, Botswana and Mozambique, new football stadiums have been built or old facilities upgraded in the hope of capturing a slice of the action.

But while some small teams may be persuaded to limber up outside of South Africa, the top teams are headed straight for the host nation.

Three of the host cities – Johannesburg, Pretoria and Bloemfontein – are at over 1,000 metres above sea level, making it important to acclimatise in the country, at altitude.

That still leaves 400,000 foreign fans who are expected to travel to South Africa, some of whom will be looking to maximize their ticket by visiting another country between games.

“As we’ve experienced in the past when we’ve taken fans to support the British Lions (rugby) and the England cricket team in South Africa, some of our customers are enquiring about extending their stay on the continent with a visit to other countries including Namibia, Kenya and Zanzibar,” Danny Talbot, Director of Thomas Cook Sport in Britain told DPA.

“We have one of the seven wonders of the world in Victoria Falls. Our hotels there are gearing up for the event,” Zimbabwe’s tourism minister Walter Mzembi said.

Zimbabwe is hoping the World Cup will revive its tourist industry, which was decimated by a decade of political violence and economic turbulence under President Robert Mugabe.

Now that a new unity government is in place, Zimbabwe says it is ‘2010 World Cup Ready’, although tour operators in Britain say tourists there are still opting to view the Falls from the “safer” Zambian side.

Hoteliers in Mozambique, an impoverished country with huge tourism potential to South Africa’s north-east, are waiting for the outcome of the World Cup draw Dec 4 to kickstart their marketing.

“After the draw, things are going to start to be clearly defined, as we will know where each team will be based, “Jose Gomes da Silva, secretary-general of the Southern Mozambique Hotels Association, says.

If a big team sets up camp in the host city of Nelspruit, an hour from the Mozambique border, the former Portuguese colony, which boasts 3,000 kilometres of tropical white-sand beaches, “will benefit hugely,” he says.

FIFA’s ticketing and accommodation agency Match has booked 400 rooms in Mozambique for the first phase of the competition, da Silva says.

“Everyone’s mindset is focused on the World Cup now,” says Abdul Anif, 26, an artisan who sells crafts outside an upmarket shopping centre in the capital Maputo.

Botswana, home to one of Africa’s largest elephant populations, is trying a different tack. The vast desert country is positioning itself as the place to go if you want to avoid the World Cup.

“We will target the displacement market,” Botswana’s tourism minister Mokaila said.