South Africa World Cup safe ... so far

High violent crime rates have been one of the chief concerns leading up to the South Africa World Cup, but there haven't been many incidents to mar the Cup so far.

REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Fans cheer during the 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match between Japan and Cameroon at Free State stadium in Bloemfontein June 14, 2010. The World Cup tournament in South Africa has been a safe one, so far.

If the doomsayers had been right, all the tourists who had flown to South Africa for the monthlong World Cup tournament would have been mugged by now and stripped of their belongings, their dignity, their faith in human goodness.

In fact, the most embarrassing case of high crime in South Africa directly associated with the World Cup – the armed robbery of three foreign journalists covering the Portuguese football team at their four-star high-security bush lodge north of Johannesburg – has already been solved.

The robbery occurred on Wednesday. The accused robbers – two Zimbabweans and a Nigerian – have already been arrested, charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced in one of the 54 special courts set up for World Cup offenses.

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Together with the case of a missing American teenager from a shopping mall in Cape Town – again, found within hours, after a massive South African Police manhunt – the first weekend has shown what South African law enforcement is capable of in major events.

High violent crime rates in South Africa, among the highest in the world, have been one of the chief concerns leading up to the World Cup, with everyone from security agencies to foreign embassies to British tabloid media issuing travel warnings and urging foreign tourists to take extra precautions.

South Africa’s Minister for Police, Nathi Mthethwa, told Reuters news agency that the conviction of the armed robbers of the foreign journalists “sends a stern message that our warnings to criminals were not empty threats."

National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele apologized to the journalists for robbery.

“It is unfortunate our visitors had to endure such an experience,” Mr. Cele told the Citizen, a South African newspaper. “I hope the swift reaction of the police will give them the confidence to enjoy the rest of their trip, this country and the beautiful game.”

South African police have generally performed poorly in solving crimes, and annual police reports show that their conviction rates for armed robbers is around 10 percent of all cases, with 13 percent for murder cases, and 11.5 percent conviction rates for those arrested for sexual crimes such as rape.

According to Rendani Randela, a researcher for the South African Treasury’s public finance division, this low rate of conviction encourages more crime.

“Criminals know they have little chance of being caught,” Mr. Randela told the police portfolio committee of South Africa’s parliament last October. “Should they be arrested, they know the chances are even less that they'll eventually appear in court. And, should they appear in court, the chances are even less that they'll be found guilty."

Will the World Cup’s special courts give local extrajudicial entrepreneurs something to think about? Let’s see.

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