South Africa promised on Friday to fix transport problems seen as one of the major concerns ahead of next year’s World Cup, including violent protests by minibus taxi drivers.

Soccer’s ruling body Fifa flagged transport as a major issue after the Confederations Cup tournament last month, which was seen as a dress rehearsal for the much bigger 2010 competition, the world’s most watched sports event.

There were serious difficulties with getting fans away from stadiums after matches in the eight-nation tournament.

Fifa also highlighted lack of accommodation and security in crime-plagued South Africa as issues to be solved before 2010.

Minibus taxi operators, who are the mainstay of transport for working class South Africans, have blocked roads in sometimes violent protests against the roll-out of a new mass bus service for the World Cup, fearing it will cut their business.

They have lit fires on roads, thrown stones at buses and shops and even threatened to use guns.

“We have now entered a phase that is not going to be characterised by conflict … we are now in the post-conflict phase with the taxi industry,” Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndabele told parliament during a budget speech.

He said the government would encourage the minibus industry to cooperate with bus and rail transport systems.

Besides sorting out the troubled taxi and bus sectors, South Africa would invest some 25 billion rand over the next three years to upgrade the rail passenger service, Ndabele said.

He said Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) has set aside 20 billion rand to improve airport infrastructure in anticipation of the expected increase in passengers during 2010.

“At present ACSA handles more than 32 million passengers annually. The number will be 43 million in year 2010 and will continue to grow,” Ndabele said.