With more than 50 homicides a day, and car jackings at gunpoint so frequent that the government has put up signs in some areas to warn drivers, the mean streets of South Africa – particularly those in Johannesburg – pose a formidable challenge to police preparing to secure the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
Cities such as Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth are considered generally safe, but those who wind up in the wrong parts of Johannesburg can find themselves facing armed robbers who place no value on human life and do not think twice before pulling the trigger or driving a knife into their victims in order to steal minuscule sums or cellphones.
But South African-born Israeli security expert Marc Kahlberg – hired by the South African authorities to provide Israeli policing know-how and technological solutions – told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that police in the country are well prepared for the tournament, and that soccer tourists will be safe so long as they remain in city “safe zones.”
Kahlberg served in the South African military before making aliya. He became an Israel Police officer, and was appointed to head the Netanya Tourist police at the height of 2002’s Palestinian suicide-bombing campaign.
In recent years, Kahlberg has taken the lessons he learned from his work to secure Netanya against terrorists and criminals, and made them available to the South African police.
“The police in South Africa are working hard,” he said. “Over 50,000 cops have been directed to secure the world Cup – that’s thousands more than the sum total of Israel’s entire police force. There is money being invested in training new manpower, technology and a very professional and dedicated command level. It will take a generation of education to reduce the violent crime.”
For the past four years, Kahlberg has been traveling to Johannesburg regularly to help the South African police create safe zones around the 10 soccer stadiums, the hotels, and Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport.
These areas will be under intensive CCTV camera watch during the tournament next June and July, while a surveillance balloon will hover over train stations and stadiums to give police a bird’s eye view of the situation on the ground, a tactic used frequently by police in Israel. Thousands of officers will flood the sites and check any suspicious-looking individual.
“I brought the balloon, the technology, and the tactics from Israel,” Kahlberg said. “Police will also set up mobile control rooms on the ground to coordinate and monitor events” – another Israeli policing practice.
“I gave them the Israeli concept of making a zone secure,” Kahlberg said.
For the safe zone concept to work, the cooperation of tourists is needed, Kahlberg said. “The stadiums, train stations, taxi ranks and hotels will be safe zones. Lots of Israelis are planning to visit next year. My advice to them is, stay in the safe zones. There shouldn’t be a safety problem.”
Upon arrival, tourists will receive maps detailing where the safe zones are situated.
“A lot of the problems used to start when tourists would arrive at the airport. Robbers would follow them out of the airport and strike. Now police have managed to stamp that out. People who linger at the airport’s exits are stopped,” Kahlberg said.
Shopping centers are not entirely safe, either – in recent years gangs of gunmen armed with AK-47s have burst into the malls, and ordered all shoppers to lay on the ground, before collecting wallets, jewelry and cellphones. Mall guards are often bribed to look the other way.
Still, “there were only 39 incidents during this year’s FIFA Confederation Cup in South Africa,” Kahlberg said. “Tourists should not go to downtown Johannesburg at night. Be vigilant, but know that the safe zones really are safe.”
Other Israeli defense firms have pitched in to the South African security effort as well, including Bet Alfa Technologies and Elbit Systems Ltd. These companies have sold their hi-tech solutions to the South African police.
“It’s a shame the Israel Police does not have the budget to buy the technology being sold by Israeli companies abroad,” Kahlberg said.
Unfortunately, not all Israelis in South Africa are fighting crime – there are Israeli criminals operating in the country, Kahlberg said.
During his visits to South Africa, Kahlberg underwent an attempted armed robbery, when a thief placed the cold barrel of a handgun to his temple after he stepped out of a restaurant.
Only later, after being rescued by security guards, did Kahlberg learn that the stolen gun was empty of bullets.
He also escaped an attempted car jacking while driving at night in Johannesburg, when stones shattered his car windows after he slowed down to examine a man lying on the ground.
“I knew it was a trap, but I slowed down anyway. I hit the gas when my window was smashed,” he said.
Johannesburg’s affluent areas have become fortresses, while downtown and the slums are urban jungles where the armed gangs thrive.
“I don’t know one person in South Africa who has not been affected by crime,” Kahlberg said.
AUTHOR: YAAKOV LAPPIN
DATED: 11th October 2009