South Africa, suffering from one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime, is turning to private security firms to help make the streets safe ahead of hosting the 2010 soccer World Cup, a minister said on Thursday.

Soccer’s world governing body FIFA has raised safety and transport as key concerns for South Africa, which is battling perceptions that it might be too dangerous for visitors.

Murders, rapes, robberies and carjackings are frequent and critics accuse the government of not doing enough to contain the violence.

“South Africa is in a panic mood on the issues of crime” Safety and Security Minister Nathi Mthethwa told reporters.

“So we are doing everything possible, we’ll partner with everybody, not only the private security companies (but) anyone … who wants to assist.”

More than 400,000 visitors are expected to attend the 2010 tournament, officials said.

FIFA has approved South Africa’s 2010 World Cup security blueprint but has said it needs to be fine-tuned ahead of the world’s most popular sporting event.

South Africa’s 2010 safety and security strategy covers terror threats, hooliganism and crime. Hooliganism is not a part of the soccer scene in South Africa, though there have been some random incidents of fan violence.

Despite the high crime, tourism growth in South Africa outpaced the global average of five percent in the first quarter of 2008, surging to 11.9 after a record 9.1 million tourist arrivals last year, authorities have said.

The government has held “extensive” consultations with the private security industry to bolster crime fighting over the Christmas season, hoping to ensure the safety of local and foreign tourists, said Mthethwa.

AUTHOR: Wendell Roelf
DATED: 30th October 2008