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Africa celebrates 'crime-free' match

It's a sunny afternoon in Soweto. A gaggle of gossiping ladies are perched on a wall within hailing distance of Nelson Mandela's former home.

The only thing that marks them out from the mix of locals and tourists wandering the length of Vilakazi Street is their navy blue uniforms.

The women are police officers from JMPD -- the Johannesburg police. They're chatting because there's nothing else to do.

The country was overjoyed to see Madiba step out before the final and greet fans, driving across the field of play in a golf cart with his wife, Graca.

But the national hero's presence has not been a prerequisite for bustling activity and excitement.

On that sunny Soweto afternoon, the hillside which overlooks the iconic township's chimneys is alive with gentle hustlers and everyone is trying to get a slice of the World Cup action.

What is completely absent is crime.



BODYGUARDS

"The cops are here just to make the World Cup feel safe," says Sakhumzi Maqubela. "Nothing is going to happen to you here, you can go anywhere you like."

The 39-year-old is stretched out in the "Legacy Garden", a seating area outside his own pub, Sakhumzi's.

He's feeling pretty good about the World Cup after seeing trade rise from 90 covers a day to nearer 1,000 a day over the past month.

"People come here thinking South Africa is all shacks," he goes on. "They perceive Joburg as full of crime."

And this is not limited to foreigners: according to Mr Maqubela, white South Africans are terrified of his township. "There's still this perception of Soweto, people think you can't move around on your own without bodyguards.

"They think that black people don't like them... It's not like that, this is a cultured place."

So what happened to all the crime?

Ahead of the finals many observers warned that the event would be overwhelmed by a damaging crime wave. It wasn't.



BACKPACKER

Before the June 11 kick-off newsrooms worldwide had been braced for the first major crime event just as they were ready to report the first goal or the first sending off.

With a few days to go before the opener, three journalists in Johannesburg were robbed at their hotel and the incident made global headlines.

Messages were passed among news professionals that could be roughly paraphrased as, "It's started already".

But it hadn't.

By the beginning of July there was a single -- non-fatal -- shooting of a US backpacker in Johannesburg to add to the crime ledger.

Dianne Kohler-Barnard, MP and shadow minister for police, said that the World Cup had gotten rid of the state's excuses for not delivering on law and order.

"Everyone has been feeling increasingly safe and it's down to high visibility policing which is supposed to be a permanent priority but is often not delivered upon.

"From today these changes could disappear. But we've tasted what it's like and we don't want to give it up."

hnews@herald.ie


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