Gaborone (Botswana) – As the 2010 soccer World Cup approaches, all eyes are on South Africa. There are genuine concerns that the crime rate is unacceptably high in Africa’s economic powerhouse.

The latest episode involving the crew of the South African Airways flight to London on Tuesday is without doubt a tragedy to the country’s aspirations to host a successful World Cup. Fifteen SAA crew members were arrested on arrival at the London’s Heathrow Airport on Tuesday after three bags containing dagga and cocaine were uncovered among the plane’s baggage. The haul was worth more than P3 million. The crew members have since appeared in court and are out on bail.

The incident does not bode well for the African airline industry. It is bound to raise concerns among the multitudes that are expected to come for the 2010 World Cup.

As it is, southern Africa’s main air transport hub – the Oliver Tambo International Airport – boast a dubious record in cargo safety. Millions of travellers who use the airport have had nasty experiences with their luggage. Instances of lost or stolen luggage; or breaking into and stealing from the luggage are common at the airport. The runaway theft by the airport staff has actually become a fact of life to passengers who use the facility.

That airport’s brazen larceny knows no boundaries and appears to have no respect for lawful authority. None other than our own former president, Festus Mogae has been a victim. His whole consignment of gifts he got from a Scandinavian sojourn disappeared without a trace from the airport. These were part of the retirement gifts for Mogae.

It is a pity the South African authorities have been unable to contain the scourge at the region’s premier airport. Honestly, this sad state of affairs does not only disparage the majority of the black population of South Africa, but indeed, the whole African community.

Our detractors recall with malice the ‘safe’ days of when OR Tambo was known as the Jan Smuts International Airport. By then, the facility boasted one of the best secure records for passenger luggage. We long for those days.

It is imperative that the South African authorities eradicate this despicable criminal activity from all the country’s airports.

It is in our interest as southern Africans and Africans that visitors to the 2010 World Cup return to their destinations with fond memories. That means criminality in the host country ought to be brought under control. It cannot be allowed to continue as a way of life.