Yesterday evening in Cabinda, Angola, a team bus carrying the Togolese national squad was fired upon when entering at the border between Congo and Angola. The incident left the bus driver, assistant coach and media officer dead while two Sparrow Hawk players were injured in the shooting and their condition has not yet been ascertained.
The act of terrorism has sparked fears worldwide and for their own safety and because of what happened, the team have reportedly decided to pull out of the tournament and return home.
Inevitably the world’s gaze will now turn to South Africa as the host of the World Cup in June this year, but the world needs to realise that Africa is not a country, but a continent, and there are thousands of kilometres between Angola and the country which is preparing to host football’s greatest tournament in the summer.
The situation in the two countries are quite different, and while both have had their problems in the past, South Africa cannot be compared to Angola in terms of safety and security.
First of all it is important to understand the history affecting Angola and why the conflict still rages on in the country.
What happened in Angola was terrible, but to be fair it should have been avoided by those involved in the organization of the competition. The rebels in Cabinda operate in that region to begin with, and CAF should have considered the dangers of hosting games in a city which is still not a peaceful zone.
The situation is different in South Africa however, as they do not have rebels or militia waiting to make a statement at their borders. South Africa is a peaceful country, which is often the leader in bringing peace to other regions of Africa, acting as mediators in times of aggression.
If one looks back to last year and just before a successfully hosted FIFA Confederations Cup, the attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team in Pakistan forced organisers of the Indian Premier League (IPL) to look for a last minute replacement country to host the tournament.
With less than a month before the start of the tournament, the IPL was moved to South Africa as a result of security concerns as safety could not be guaranteed in the region. South Africa hosted a fine championship with no issues of safety, and there is no evidence to suggest that the World Cup will be any different.
There is of course the threat that other terrorist groups looking for the attention of the world could see South Africa as a perfect place to target, but the country has known this for quite some time now and measures have been put into place and organisations set up to combat the threat of terrorism, should it occur.
The staging of the World Cup brings with it a certain focus and media rich environment that could create a potential target for terrorists aiming to capture the attention of the world with an act of cowardly violence. The man whose job it is to neutralise these types of threats is director David Garnett - 2010 Senior Operations Coordinator - and he is mustering all his forces to combat terrorists.
A grand plan is coming together to secure the routes, accommodation and tourist attractions. South Africa will be super safe by June. Backing up the average cops on the street is the police task force, who have spent months in training ahead of 2010.
At a press conference Garnet said, “Special forces are going to be utilised according to their roles and responsibilities. Those details I'm not going to make public for obvious reasons because they remain the sharp edge of our policing."
He is also planning to supplement South African forces with foreign police. "We are in the process of inviting the police agencies from the countries who are attending the event to provide us with 16 to 20 police officers who will then be deployed in South Africa,” he said. “They will then accompany their team and will be deployed in tourist areas where the team and their spectators are going to be at the specific matches.”
Garnet continued, "The police are about 175 000-strong at present and we are calling up some 41 000, so there are many police officers left who will be conducting their normal crime prevention, law enforcement and investigation duties. We do not leave the rest of South Africa without any policing - that would be ludicrous."
In terms of the recent wave of terrorism, the air force is prepared to deal with any airborne threats that may present themselves. Brigadier General Les Lombard, in charge of Planning & Execution of Airspace Security said, "Well, from the ground we can have an aircraft in the air within a minute. We believe it is a fairly low risk threat at this stage, but all risks we are catering for and exercising against any type of threat."
After 18 months of World Cup specific training regarding any threats during the competition, the police, emergency services and the air force gave the media a glimpse of their training before the Confederations Cup.
In a mock exercise, hijackers stormed in and captured members of the media. Three state of the art Hawk fighter jets were immediately commandeered to force the rogue plane down and, for the sake of the exercise, it landed. The hijackers were apprehended and hostages freed by a tactical task force. Meanwhile, a robot diffused a bomb on the tarmac. It was an example of what could happen in an emergency, and the training involved with the various situations portrayed in the exercise was impressive.
Lombard explained, "The worst case scenario would be that there would be intervention on the aircraft which could lead to the aircraft being shot down, but for that we would need presidential approval."
The fact that such situations have been taken into consideration is another reason why the World Cup is bound to be a success in South Africa. So much planning has gone into every detail of the competition. For the duration of the World Cup all aircraft flying within 50 nautical miles of a stadium will be deemed to be in military airspace. Working closely with civil aviation, even the air crews will need to be pre-approved.
Garnet added, "Obviously terrorism remains one of our main focus areas from a safety and security perspective. But I can tell you that we put in contingency plans to deal with any event in South Africa. We have dealt with major events in the past. We've had over 140 major events in the country since 1994 so I am confident from an international perspective that South Africa is quite safe."
Until now, South Africa has been spared in terrorism attacks against Western interests worldwide, but the World Cup provides a target for such terrorists, and the security personnel involved in 2010 safety will be keeping that in mind ahead of the tournament.
In any case, the spotlight on Angola and the Cabinda rebels should not cast a shadow on South Africa, because the country is preparing for the worst and expecting the best.
Peter Pedroncelli, Goal.com