South Africa faces transport challenge

South Africa is confident that it will be ready to host the World Cup next year but faces a challenge in transporting the fans to matches, the tourism minister said on Wednesday. Building workers agreed on Wednesday to end a week-long strike that had paralysed work on stadiums and a mass transit rail project in the Johannesburg area and raised fears of delays to key World Cup infrastructure. "Obviously the World Cup is the big one. Everything is on time, on target. It will be, in our view, the best and the biggest World Cup ever," Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said in an interview. "As government, we feel pretty confident," he told Reuters. Nobody could guarantee there would be no more labour unrest, but South Africa had a good record in hosting major sports tournaments, he said, most recently the Confederations Cup, a dry run for the World Cup. International football officials had identified two areas - transport and accommodation - where improvements were needed before the World Cup. Van Schalkwyk said he expected a rapid transport system would be in place next year and there were enough rooms to accommodate the 450,000 visitors expected for the World Cup. "The challenge that we face is to get people from where those rooms are to the matches, on the day that the matches take place," he said. "That is why we must have the bus rapid transport system and the high speed rail system, also flights to and from those areas where the accommodation is." Hotel rooms had been booked in neighbouring countries, he said. "It's nothing strange. When the World Cup was in Germany, people flew in from other European countries." PROTESTS South Africa's minibus taxi drivers opposed to the new mass bus service have staged sometimes violent protests, fearing they will lose business. Van Schalkwyk acknowledged South Africa's crime record - about 50 people are murdered each day - is seen as a worry by visitors. He said tens of thousands more police would be put on the streets, while tour operators, hotels and guest houses would give visitors information on how to look after themselves. "People must also take responsibility for their own safety," Van Schalkwyk said. The month-long tournament, held in Africa for the first time, will provide a boost to a host nation battling its first recession in 17 years, he said in a statement in Johannesburg. "It is estimated that the World Cup will contribute 50 billion rand ($6.11 billion) to the economy from construction investment alone, with a further estimated 15.6 billion rand generated by tourism," the statement said. South Africa's construction sector has bucked the trend in a depressed economy, in which the manufacturing and mining sectors were worst affected by a global economic downturn, thanks to a slew of projects, many of which are related to the tournament. Van Schalkwyk said tourism was also proving resilient in a dampened global market although 2009 indications proved South Africa was not immune. "Early indications point to negative growth in foreign arrivals in the first quarter of this year (2009) and subdued occupancy rates," he said.