South Africa’s readiness against any potential threat to the soccer World Cup is being questioned, says a Bloomberg report. However, about 44,000 of the country's security officers are assigned to safeguard teams and fans, and police have acquired 100 high-performance BMW cars, 10 unmanned surveillance aircraft and six helicopters for the month-long tournament.
Even so, South Africa’s coastline and its land borders, shared with six countries, are poorly monitored and would be easy for terrorists to penetrate, said Helmut Heitman, South African analyst for IHS Jane’s, a defense research group. “You are going to get a lot of Westerners here, you are going to get a lot of potentially interesting targets,” he said in an April 22 phone interview from Cape Town. “From the point of view of terrorist groups, we are probably seen as a soft target,” and there is a real if “small risk” of being attacked.
The 3,022 miles of land borders that let in millions of illegal immigrants may be equally open to potential terrorists. A study conducted in 1996 by the Pretoria-based Human Sciences Research Council estimated that between 2.5 and 4.1 million people, or between 5 percent and 8 percent of the current population, were living in the country illegally, the report said.
The Department of Home Affairs said it didn’t have figures on illegal immigrants. “South Africa’s borders are porous and controls on entry and exit are easily circumvented,” said Frans Cronje, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Johannesburg-based South African Institute for Race Relations, in the report. “It is also relatively easy to obtain fraudulent documents to live and work in South Africa under an assumed name.”
Yet, the South African government, which is spending more than 1.3 billion rand ($171 million) on security, says it hasn’t identified any credible terrorist threat. About 360,000 international visitors will attend the 32-nation event, says Zurich-based FIFA, world soccer’s governing body. The tournament is being held in Africa for the first time.
“We are prepared for any eventuality,” Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said. “Any type of deviant behavior, be it criminality or terrorism, will be dealt with swiftly and with no mercy.” Interpol, the Lyon, France-based global police organization, is working with South African security forces to secure the event and competing nations will send uniformed officers to accompany their teams while they remain in the competition, the report noted.
“We have done the maximum to ensure the highest level of security at the event,” FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke told reporters in Johannesburg on April 8.
The country’s murder rate of 37.2 per 100,000 people is about seven times higher than that of the U.S., data from the South African police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows. About 250,000 homicides have been committed in the country since the end of apartheid in 1994, according to police statistics analyzed by the race relations institute.
The South African government has launched an anti-crime initiative that gives officers more flexibility to use deadly force and raised the police budget by an average of 14 percent annually in the three years through March 2010.