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South Africa Builds on World Cup Achievement

Barrington M. Salmon | 4/28/2011, 1:23 a.m.
Two young soccer fans enjoying World Cup festivities, and FIFA Logo for South Africa World Cup 2010, the first to take place on the continent. / Courtesy photos  

"Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does."
- Nelson Mandela, first democratically-elected president of South Africa.

The Republic of South Africa continues to reflect the pride of being the first African nation to successfully stage and host the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup. For one glorious month last summer, more than 500,000 tourists descended on the country to watch 32 national teams vie for football supremacy.

The event - played every four years - is thought to have been the most watched soccer game in history, with an estimated 700 million people glued to TV screens, computers and smart phones, immersed in the final between Spain and the Netherlands. The Spanish team hoisted the trophy but the real winner was South Africa.

"Seven months after the World Cup, South Africa continues to bask in the glow of the World Cup," said South African Ambassador His Excellency Ebrahim Rasool.
We helped make mass conversions to soccer and South Africa displaced a whole number of other issues."

Although the host country's team was knocked out in the first round, the tournament was an unqualified success if for no other reason than it destroyed the stereotype that an African country lacked the wherewithal and the know-how to pull off such a vast undertaking.

"People were fascinated with the Internet, the 24-7 banking system, (and) a transportation and hotel infrastructure that is second to none - all this able to be done by a young country," Rasool added.

It would have been catastrophic for South Africa and Africa if any of the naysayers' dire predictions of unchecked crime, a terror attack or the national soccer federation's inability to meet FIFA-imposed deadlines came true. But the tournament went off with no major prob-lems and since the closing ceremonies on July 11, the South African government has been building on the goodwill and positive feedback the World Cup generated.

Rasool was one of five South African tourism and embassy officials who took part in a luncheon discussion at the National Press Club in Northwest. The April 4 forum focused on how the country is using the success of the soccer tournament to kick-start another phase of tourism, among other things.

"South Africa is much more than a safari, it is a modern, emerging economy," said Tourism Minister Marthinus Van Schalkwyk.

"We have the greatest restaurants and shopping. South Africa is a fascinating country with 11 official languages, it's urbanized and tradi-tional, has a rich cultural heritage and we hold the Mandela era very dearly."

Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. / Courtesy photo
" "We understand what a destination should be and what it should be in terms of what we provide," he said.

Van Schalkwyk said that the government's 'massive injection' of $2 billion (U.S.) in infrastructure helped improve roads, develop a light rail system and upgrade airports ahead of the World Cup. He said local soccer officials formed a strong partnership with the private sector and businesses and they had 'buy in' from the residents at the beginning of the process.

According to the Department of Tourism, the World Cup exposed South Africa to an international audience of approximately 32 billion viewers and introduced the economic juggernaut to non-traditional markets in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia.

Thandiwe January-McLean, CEO of South African Tourism, echoed the sentiment shared by all at the luncheon in downtown Washing-ton, that the goodwill bestowed on her country cannot be measured in monetary terms. She said if South Africa did not build on this, it would miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"The World Cup provided a fantastic opportunity to market South Africa to the world," she said. "The World Cup spoke to the can-do spirit of our people, national unity and national pride."

The United States is a key market in the SA tourism universe, being the largest source of business tourism to South Africa, which ac-counts for the concerted effort to attract more visitors. There was a 23 percent increase in U.S. visitors to South Africa between 2009 and 2010, Van Schalkwyk said, and 92 percent of those who visited last year were first-time visitors and young Americans.

A new tourism initiative dubbed "2020" is a plan to attract 15 million foreign visitors and 17.5 million domestic tourists. Four platforms have been identified by tourism officials as selling points for prospective visitors: adventure/exploration; safari/nature; food/wine; cul-ture/heritage (music, dance, language, and lifestyle).

"South Africa is fortunate to have a variety of offerings," said January-McLean. "We are trying all we can to keep (our country) in the public eye."

She said that when the TV program, The Bachelor, aired with South Africa as the backdrop, more than 20 million viewers tuned in to the four-hour broadcast. In addition, January-McLean said, Facebook, Twitter and tourism websites has seen more than 75,000 unique visitors annually.

January-McLean and the other participants pointed out that the World Cup was not an end in itself for the tourism sector, but a major milestone in the industry's arc of progress, which they hope will lay a solid foundation for many years of growth and development.

Rasool explained the wider implications of the overwhelming and positive global coverage.

"We have this major road show making a case for South Africa," he said. "There is money to be made in Africa as an investor, trader or tourist. And going to do business in Africa comes through South Africa. The return on investment in Africa outstrips any such return anywhere else."

"U.S. economic salvation lies in Africa," Rasool asserted. "Africa is third behind China and India. It is foolish to have the ground con-trolled by China. The U.S. needs the courage to cross the pond."

He said southern African countries were currently in negotiations to develop free trade agreements and the African Growth Opportuni-ties Act makes it easier for African goods to enter U.S. markets.

"When the negotiations are concluded, it will make sub-Saharan Africa duty-free ... 'this shows that competitors can also be partners,'" he said.

Van Schalkwyk agreed, saying the airlift of goods and cargo remains a problem and that there needs to be more direct links on the conti-nent. Currently, only 50 airlines service Africa, he said.

"Why do flights have to go to Europe before coming back to Africa?" he asked.

Rasool said improving Africa's infrastructure and transportation links would "make things easier."

He said it is imperative that the U.S. government, corporations and businesses take advantage of the many benefits that can accrue if they increase tourism, trade and investment with African nations.

"Empirical evidence shows that it is a win-win situation," Rasool said.

"Fifty percent of the money that comes to Africa returns to the U.S. through the purchase of capital goods. There is a burgeoning mid-dle class (in Africa) who want 'white items' - fridges, stoves and microwaves. And they are buying them from the U.S. Ford has just in-vested heavily in Africa because they see the potential of investing in Africa."

Wal-Mart is also trying to make inroads in Africa as a source too, he said, because farmers can grow organic foods in uncontaminated soil. The ambassador also cited the presence of the Carlyle Group which he said has invested about $750 million in Senegal, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

"They want to buy low and sell high."

The tourism minister said South Africa continues to boast a vibrant and growing tourism sector which outperformed every other country in 2010. While traditional markets remain very important, officials are eager to tap into and create more buzz in new and emerging mar-kets.

Both Rasool and Van Schalkwyk spoke of the legacy of apartheid and how the country is moving beyond it.

"We live with the mistakes of our past but we have taken ownership of them and with U.S. help are facing and dealing with them," Ra-sool said.

"...Even as we presented the World Cup, we needed to embrace the reality of being first-world with poverty-stricken areas. The (World Cup) plan was to accelerate infrastructure development and jobs."

"The stadium in Soweto was used for opening and closing ceremonies. Soweto was the eye of the storm during apartheid," he said. "We did not try to hide the social conditions or displace the people. We tarred every road, bed and breakfasts thrived there and we created a retail and manufacturing infrastructure," Rasool said.

Two decades removed from apartheid - the hated system of racism and discrimination against people of color in South Africa - Van Schalkwyk said the struggles of the past have liberated the oppressed and the oppressor.

For all its challenges, Rasool concluded, at the end of the day, "South Africa is just good for your soul. Your imagination can run wild ... and when you consider (Nelson) Mandela and reconciliation, South Africa is rejuvenation of the human instinct in its purest form."