SA shows its security muscle
Cape Town - South Africa showed off its security muscle for the 2010 World Cup on Thursday to convince skeptics the first tournament in Africa will be safe and secure.
The daylong exercise included helicopters flying overhead and special task force members abseiling from the roof of the new Greenpoint Stadium.
"We are ready. We were ready yesterday," national police commissioner Bheki Cele said as the host country showed off part of the $89m worth of security equipment it has bought to keep fans safe at football's biggest tournament.
Police minister Nathi Mthethwa also watched as South Africa's police earlier paraded water cannons, boats, jet skis, motorcycles and heavy duty emergency disaster vehicles through Cape Town's main square before the display at Greenpoint Stadium.
"We have prepared ourselves for anything from the pettiest of criminal acts to the largest of terrorism threats," Mthethwa said.
"We have been preparing since 2004," he said, the year South Africa won the right to host Africa's first football World Cup. "It's all systems go."
A high rate of violent crime, as well as recent racial tensions following the murder of a renowned white supremacist leader, has led many to view South Africa as an unsafe destination.
"South Africa will host the safest and most secure World Cup," Mthethwa insisted. "Failure is not even a part of our vocabulary.
"We don't have to prove to anyone that we are ready," he said, although it was clear that Thursday's extensive display of readiness was designed to show the world the country was capable of offering a safe event.
Hostage negotiators, bomb disposal experts, the diving unit, specialists from forensic laboratories as well as air force and navy members were just part of Thursday's participants.
Mthethwa said South Africa was ready to guard the monthlong event against international terrorism.
He said officials were aware of al-Qaida-linked threats against the World Cup, and in particular against the United States-England group game, on Jihadist forums.
"It's not the first time they have been made and our agencies are not sleeping," Mthethwa said. "They are working. They are on the ball."
There are fears in South Africa that a more realistic threat to the June 11 - July 11 tournament will come from some of the country's own unhappy citizens.
Mthethwa said threats from "certain entities" in South Africa would not be tolerated amid concerns right-wing groups and workers unhappy with wages and their standard of living will use the tournament to air grievances.
"No one will disrupt the World Cup," Mthethwa said, or they will face the "wrath of the law."
Cele, who laughed and joked with Mthethwa during more lighthearted parts of the celebrations, said the 44 000 police officers dedicated exclusively to the World Cup showed South Africa's preparations were extensive. He said South Africa would be safe before, during and after the World Cup.
"42 days is too long," Cele said regarding the numbers of days remaining until the World Cup kicks off. "We want it yesterday."
Cele also said South Africa had been working with police forces in Europe to ensure troublesome foreign fans would not find their way to the World Cup.
Cele said he had assurances from British police that 3 000 banned British fans, who have a history of hooliganism at major football tournaments, would not be allowed to travel to South Africa.
"Even if they do sneak in," he said, "they will be leaving even faster."