South Africa has launched an offensive to counter mainly European media reports and as well as what it considers unfounded concerns that an insurgent attack in Angola’s Cabinda enclave has any relevance to the southern Africa state holding an incident-free soccer World Cup in June.
National police commissioner Bheki Cele, who was in Angola at the weekend, yesterday vowed that “sport terrorism” would not stop the World Cup, the Independent group’s newspapers as well as the SA Press Association report.
Playing down worldwide security fears after the ambush of the Togolese soccer team’s bus in the separatism-plagued enclave on Friday, Cele said the risk of the terror spilling over into South Africa was small. He said Cabinda was “hours from here” by plane.
He returned yesterday morning from Angola, where he and President Jacob Zuma attended the opening match of the African Cup of Nations.
Zuma has also played down fears, saying the attack took place in a known trouble spot. His spokesman, Vincent Magwenya, added that the country remains “100% ready” to host the World Cup. “He (Zuma) emphasised that the shocking and unacceptable attack on the Togolese team should not be blown out of proportion, but should serve as impetus for the African continent and the world at large to work even harder to rid the world of terrorist activity and violence wherever it surfaces.”
Unfair to compare SA,Angola
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said yesterday it would be unfair to judge security in South Africa on the basis of the “fragility of the political situation in Angola”.
Cele said the World Cup in Germany four years ago had not been cancelled because of the bombings in Madrid, Spain, in 2004 and the bombs targeting the London commuter network in 2005.
“The gaps that we could have noticed are closed in South Africa. We are (being meticulous about) the policing of the World Cup in South Africa,” Cele said.
Police had gained “extra understanding” of additional measures they should implement at stadiums.
“We realised, [after the terrorist attack] that the gaps that could have been noticed were closed in South Africa. We are really fine.”
Describing the atmosphere in Angola immediately following the attacks, Cele said the mood was “a bit down generally in the country”, but the international media’s concern was primarily South Africa’s readiness for the tournament in June and July.
“There was a little bit of Cabinda, a lot of 2010 World Cup,” he said.
Many in the Togolese team had been keen to play, but because of “pressures back home” they had to withdraw, which gave “credit to the terrorists”.
Cele said it seemed that the separatists who launched the attack had not wanted to kill people, but merely to make “more noise”.
The head of the 2010 FIFA local organising committee (LOC), Danny Jordaan, described as “stupid” people who, after the attack in Cabinda, questioned South Africa’s security measures for the World Cup.
“It doesn’t make sense. If a bomb went off in Spain, do you think I should call England to ask about what the impact is on the Olympics England is organising?” Jordaan said.
He added on television this morning that Cabinda was about 3000km from SA, the same distance as London to Moscow. He asked rhetorically whether anyone would seriously state that security incidents in Russia and Europe over the next two years posed a threat to the 2012 London Olympics.
“I think if something happens in France, you’ll know it happened in France, not elsewhere.”
The Business Day this morning reports Institute for Security Studies (ISS) senior researcher and former police senior officer Dr Johan Burger as saying that the organisers of the African Nations Cup tournament were irresponsible in not arranging security escort services for teams travelling by road.
Burger further said SA’s security plans provided for security escort services during major events and could not be compared with most other African countries. “When we look at the police operational plans for big events, they provide escorting services arranged on a permanent basis,” he said.
“People must understand that SA is completely different from the situation that took place in Angola. Our country does not have liberation groups (rebels) that are fighting now and then and any threat of this nature would be taken care of by the intelligence services,” he said.
The business daily also quoted LOC spokesman Rich Mkhondo as saying the incident in Angola would not affect preparations for the World Cup. “We’re working with the local and international agencies to prepare for any eventuality. There are some simulations going on around the country between the partners who are in charge of security, the police and the army,” he said.
Earlier, LOC chairman Irvin Khoza said the challenge posed by the attack was the misconception that Africa was a country, not a continent with many different countries.
Sport attracts terrorists
Reuters also reported that “while any major sporting event could attract publicity-seeking action by extremists”, South Africa and Angola were totally different. “South Africa has a very effective security apparatus, probably the most effective in southern Africa,” it quoted Sajjan Gohel, international security director of a London think tank, the Asia-Pacific Foundation,as saying.
“But all it requires is one particular terrorist event that could create huge disruption to the tournament itself … It would be totally naive to assume South Africa would be either immune or exempt from it.”
Although Gohel and Reuters did not mention it, the intersection of terror and sport date back to at least 1972 when Palestinian militants attacked Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.
Partly because such dangers are taken so seriously, security planning began in 2004, Reuters added.
“We have got our plans in place, both pro-active and reactive plans,” said Senior Superintendent Vishnu Naidoo, the national police spokesman for the World Cup.
South Africa has hosted other major sporting events successfully, including the Cricket World Cup in 2003 and the Rugby World Cup in 1995.
Reuters added that analysts had told it sufficient measures had been taken to ensure the safety of teams, and the tens of thousands of expected fans. “We have been following police preparations for the World Cup very closely and we are very impressed with the security measures,” said Jakkie Cilliers, executive director of the ISS.
Gohel added that terrorism has become the bane of sports events. “Pakistan have become sporting pariahs, nobody plays there.”
Gohel said the magnitude of the soccer World Cup made it an attractive target for militants seeking maximum publicity. “For the last three World Cups terrorist groups have thought about carrying out an attack but they haven’t been successful, they have had their own logistical and technical problems,” he said.
SA not immune
“It would be totally naive to assume South Africa would be either immune or exempt from it. It is very worrying sporting events are being hijacked in this way.”
The major headache for organisers is the ease with which a sporting event can be disrupted even if the attacks do not go according to plan. A soccer World Cup is also logistically easier to target because it is not confined to one city as are the summer and winter Olympics, Reuters noted.
Security is going to be a major problem at the New Dehli Commonwealth Games in October following the militant attacks in Mumbai in 2008 which killed 166 people.
An England badminton team withdrew from the world championships in Hyderabad and the Australian Davis Cup tennis side refused to play in Chennai.
“I believe the threat to the Commonwealth Games is very serious because we saw how the Mumbai gunmen were able to hold an entire city hostage for several days,” Gohel said. “We saw how it created panic, it captured the headlines, it precipitated fear we haven’t seen since the 9/11 attacks, it was being beamed into our homes from the international media.”
In addition, US intelligence think-tank Stratfor did last week warn in its “Jihadism in 2010” analysis that Somali insurgents were a rising threat to SA. They noted that the main Jihadist group there, al-Shabaab, in September last year declared itself allied to al-Qaeda. It also questioned whether the group would this year decide to use its contacts within the Somali diaspora to conduct attacks in East Africa, South Africa, Australia, Europe and the United States. “We believe that al Shabaab is on its way to becoming a transnational player and that 2010 may well be the year that it breaks out and then draws international attention like [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] has done in recent months.”
The US closed its embassy and consulates in SA for three days last September allegedly because of a threat from Somali militants. SA has growing Somali population that is frequently the victim of xenophobic violence. Alienated and antagonised members of this community may well cooperate with militants to strike at western or other targets in the country. The same could be argued for the Pakistani diaspora in SA,which has also dramatically increased in recent years. British authorities have in recent years intercepted a number of Pakistani militants that had transitted through SA and who were in possession of irregularly issued SA travel documents. It is known that these and other Jihadi militants have used SA as a “safe harbour.”
Reuters noted some teams – including the United States and England – are seen as potential targets for Islamic militant groups out to strike at the West.
SA faced an indigenous Jihadist threat between 1996 and 2002 in the form of the mostly-Cape Town-based People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD). The militant group initially targetted drug dealers and gangsters, reportedly murdering several, in the notoriously-crime ridden Cape Flats but then branched into more seditious activity. An urban terrorism campaign that included pipe bombings started in 1998, and according to the wikipedia included nine bombings in 2000 alone. In addition to targeting gang leaders, bombing targets included South African authorities, moderate Muslims, synagogues, gay nightclubs, tourist attractions, and Western-associated restaurants. The most prominent attack during this time was the bombing on 25 August 1998 of the Cape Town Planet Hollywood.
In September 2000, magistrate Pieter Theron, who was presiding in a case involving PAGAD members, was murdered in a drive-by shooting. PAGAD was also accused of anti-semitic statements and a petrol bomb attack on a Jewish bookshop owner.
Violent acts such as bombings and vigilantism in Cape Town subsided in 2002, and the police have not attributed any such acts to PAGAD since the November 2002 bombing of the Bishop Lavis offices of the Serious Crimes Unit in the city. The police and National Intelligence Agency later took credit for ending the violence.
Too early for Angola?
Former World Cup-winning coaches Franz Beckenbauer and Marcello Lippi told the anadian Press they remain confident that South Africa will put on a peaceful tournament. “Of course, the shock at the terrible events sits deep,” said Beckenbauer, three days after three people were killed and two Togo players were wounded in the attack on the team. “But it would be a mistake if we Europeans lumped together South Africa and Angola.
“Perhaps the African Cup came a bit too early for Angola,” Beckenbauer, who coached West Germany to the World Cup title in 1990 and won as a player in 1974, told the German daily Bild.
Angola has only recently overcome decades of violence, and the country’s government was hoping the biennial continental championship would give it a chance to show the world it was on the way to recovery – much like South Africa is trying to prove itself after decades of apartheid kept that country racially segregated.
The first World Cup to be played on African soil will open June 11 with host South Africa facing Mexico at Soccer City in Johannesburg. The final is scheduled for July 11 at the same stadium. An estimated 450,000 fans will visit the country for the 32-team, month-long tournament at 10 venues in nine cities across the country.
Pic: Greenpoint Stadium, Cape Town.