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A kick back to Johannesburg

Will Johannesburg reverse the negative trend before the Soccer World Cup comes to South Africa in 2010?


[chronicle] Once upon a time, I had the unpleasant experience of being robbed in Johannesburg. My two travel companions and I arrived at Johannesburg Central Bus Station on a Monday morning. With quick steps we walked towards the train station just over 500 meters away. Suddenly, in the middle of the populous street, we were surrounded by a gang of 14-15 year olds. The boy in front of me pulled out a knife, set it against my throat and whispered, "where is the money?"

Johannesburg is Cape Town's dangerous and ugly big brother. While little brother is often described as one of the world's most beautiful cities, big brother Johannesburg is among the world's most reviled cities. The horror stories are many: Hijacking – armed robbery of cars waiting for the green light – is widespread. The murder and rape statistics are among the highest in the world. And in four years, hundreds of thousands of naive, drunk, flag-waving football tourists will come here.

Revitalization in the center.

The indisputable capital of the 2010 FIFA World Cup is Johannesburg. Here most matches will be played, here the press center will be, here the opening match and the final will be played. The South African government is betting that Johannesburg will copy the success of other cities that have used major sporting events to create new life in decaying districts. In the office premises of the government's body for revitalization, Johannesburg Development Agency, there is eager talk about the role models: the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, and the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. The plan is clear. Joburg – as the city is often called – will rise.

Particular emphasis is placed on the city center – Central Business District – and South West Township (abbreviation: Soweto). In each district, matches will be played during the World Cup. Johannesburg will thus be the first city in several decades to have two World Cup stadiums.

Today, tourists are usually encouraged to avoid downtown Johannesburg. And until a few years ago, many companies, hotels and banks also left the skyscrapers in favor of fortress-like office space in the safer northern suburbs. Prices of downtown office space plummeted, and an economic downturn hit the area. The only thing that increased was the crime. Since much of South Africa's wealth comes from Johannesburg, many interpreted this as a negative sign for the future of South Africa.

Gold Town.

In 1884, the world's largest gold vein was discovered just outside Johannesburg. An explosive economic growth followed. Within a few weeks, the city grew from having a few hundred inhabitants to many thousands, and a few years later over a quarter of all the world's gold came from Johannesburg. At the end of the 1800th century, Johannesburg had great attractiveness, and immigrants arrived from much of Europe. Joburg quickly grew to become the most prosperous city in Africa.

And economically, Johannesburg is still the most dominant city in the continent. Calculations show that just under 20 percent of total economic activity in the entire continent is happening there. The city, with about eight million inhabitants, is the economic engine, not only for South Africa, but for the whole of southern Africa.

South Africa's two best football teams – Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates – come from Soweto. For while rugby has historically been the most important sport for the white minority, football has always been most important for the black majority. When the World Cup comes to South Africa, it is therefore appropriate that both the opening match and the final are played at the stadium Soccer city, just outside Soweto. The symbolism that the final will be played right next to the district where the white minority stowed away the black majority under the apartheid regime was emphasized in all application papers for FIFA. The 2010 FIFA World Cup will celebrate Johannesburg as the capital of the anti-apartheid struggle.

In recent years, Soweto has undergone an economic boom. A few steps away from Soccer city are two major tourist attractions: Nelson Mandela's old house, as well as the new Hector Peterson Museum, which depicts youth resistance. Housing prices have risen significantly in Soweto, and there are many signs of increasing wealth. Soon, both the huge Maponya Mall shopping mall and the four-star Freedom Square Hotel will open.

World Cup World Cup.

Danny Jordaan, head of the organizing committee, wants the Soccer World Cup to celebrate not only South Africa, but the entire African continent. "World Class African World Cup," is the slogan. In interviews where Jordaan is confronted with the crime, he points out that Johannesburg has had great success as host of the Rugby World Cup in 1995, the Cricket World Cup in 2003, and the UN Sustainable Development Summit in 2002. To other skeptics who doubt that the South Africa manages to host such a huge sporting event, former apartheid opponents refer to the history of South Africa. "In South Africa we are used to making the impossible possible," says Bishop Desmond Tutu often. The entire political establishment is behind the event. The trio Tutu, Fredrik de Klerk and Nelson Mandela were vigorously lobbying FIFA to give the World Cup to South Africa.

Great ambitions.

The ambitions for the tournament are very high. "We are going to create the best football World Cup ever," President Thabo Mbeki said recently. And already, four years before the first kickoff, Joburg has taken some steps forward. Crime in the city center has decreased by 25 per cent in recent years. Several companies and organizations have begun to move back to the center. A national security committee with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani as special advisor has been set up to combat crime. Walking the streets of Newtown, Norwood, Melville or Yeoville districts, one can see why Johannesburg has become the only world metropolis in Africa. And even though the road ahead is long, more than advertisers and government officials have begun to talk about Johannesburg being on its way to a renaissance.

Nevertheless, Johannesburg's problems are still enormous. Many cities have previously tried to use major sporting events such as miracle cures to revitalize neighborhoods without success. For every Barcelona, ​​there is a Montreal. The city that hosted the 1976 Summer Olympics was left with little other than massive debt.

But now Joburg himself has got the knife on his throat. FIFA has clearly stated that crime must go down before hundreds of thousands of football tourists arrive. In 2010, it must be possible to walk from the bus station to the train station without being robbed.

The Chronicle is written by:

Bjørn Klouman Bekken, Student at JF Kennedy School of Government,

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