25 June 2010
One of the great successes of the 2010 World Cup – and there have been many – is how the special courts set up for the tournament have succeeded in dealing with the criminal activity that is part-and-parcel of hosting an event of this magnitude.
And the good new is that South Africans, for the most part, have been squeaky clean. After all, of the 13 criminal cases which had been heard by Tuesday this week, most involved foreigners.
They included a Peruvian accused of stealing a laptop from a police officer; a Brazilian syndicate charged with lifting handbags and wallets; a Ugandan citizen charged with stealing a cellphone from a Guinean; an American charged with stealing four laptops; a Slovenian and a French-speaker charged with drunk driving; and a Brazilian charged with unspecified theft.
For the handful of South Africans who have stepped out of line, justice has been equally swift. As the Mail & Guardian reported: “Two armed men rob three foreign journalists at gunpoint on a Wednesday, police arrest them on the Thursday, and by Friday night they’ve been tried, convicted and begun serving 15-year sentences”.
Helen Zille, the leader of the official opposition Democratic Alliance, points out that, just two years ago, Deputy Justice Minister Johnny de Lange admitted that the criminal justice system was dysfunctional. “And yet, the special World Cup courts will finalise five times more cases per month than normal courts. If we can learn this lesson from the World Cup, and apply it in a way that does not erode democracy, it will have been more than worth it,” she said.
Certainly, these courts have played an important role in changing international perceptions of South Africa being a criminal’s paradise. Recent UK media reports of crazed “machete gangs” waiting for World Cup visitors have now been laughed off by every foreigner visiting this land.
Instead, the world is learning about South Africa’s warmth and hospitality – and, of course, its ability to successfully host mega sporting events.
Urquhart is a former Fifa World Cup media officer and the current editor of Project 2010