JOHANNESBURG — Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging movement is warning countries about sending their soccer teams to a “land of murder” after Eugene Terreblanche was bludgeoned to death only 10 weeks before the World Cup.
Tour operators counter that the high-profile slaying hasn’t led to cancellations and that many coming already knew South Africa has high rates of violent crime — some 50 murders a day. FIFA also says it is pleased with the country’s security arrangements.
“It’s a murder that’s happened, there’s murder happening all over the place” around the world, said Steve Bailey, CEO of South African tourism wholesaler EccoTours, which is handling thousands of British World Cup tourists.
South Africa’s crime rate, among the highest in the world, has been a concern since it won the bid to become the first African host of soccer’s World Cup. The tournament kicks off June 11 and hundreds of thousands of visitors expected to descend upon the country.
South Africa’s 50 murders a day translate into 38.6 for every 100,000 citizens, compared to 0.88 in Germany, host of the last World Cup. South Africa’s murder rate actually dropped slightly last year, but the numbers of car-hijackings and rapes increased.
Britain’s Daily Star newspaper published an article Monday headlined “World Cup machete threat,” claiming machete-wielding gangs were roaming the streets of South Africa after Eugene Terreblanche’s killing and that England fans could be caught up in violence.
The article caused outrage in South Africa amid concerns it could frighten away tourists.
“People are waiting to see if there will be retaliation. If there’s retaliatory violence, that will have a massive effect — it could be disastrous for South Africa and the World Cup,” Bailey said.
Terreblanche’s extremist Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging movement, better known as the AWB, had vowed to avenge his death. One of the suspect’s mothers told AP Television News that Terreblanche was killed Saturday in a wage dispute after he had failed to pay them since December.
The AWB retracted the threat this week, renouncing violence and calling on its members to be calm. The AWB, though, warned countries sending teams to the World Cup that South Africa is a “land of murder,” and not to do so unless they were given “sufficient protection.”
World Cup matches will be played in nine cities in South Africa, but none will be held in Ventersdorp, the nearest town to where Terreblanche was slain, about 110 kilometers (68 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.
The country’s ruling ANC party has slammed the AWB for advising teams against playing at the World Cup.
“We don’t think that it’s the right thing to do,” ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu told The Associated Press. “This is a World Cup for all of us, not only black people of this country. And we have to give all the support we can for the World Cup to happen here in South Africa.”
The Association of British Travel Agents, which represents the majority of tour operators there, said it is extremely unlikely the high-profile slaying would discourage people. Many travelers have already made their World Cup bookings and there have been no queries about canceling, it said.
There was a similar response from Tourvest, a South African-based tour provider handling 80,000 foreign World Cup tourists and SA Tourism, the state tourism development company, as well as the Football Supporters Federation, a 142,000-strong body representing fans’ interests in England and Wales.
“The British holiday-maker takes a very pragmatic view of possible risks, and will only consider canceling trips if there is a very real danger,” said Sean Tipton, spokesman from the British travel agents.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s travel advice to fans remains unchanged: making sure they have somewhere to stay, stay on tourist routes and remain vigilant.
“I can imagine that people might be a little anxious, and we do have that perception of South Africa as a crime-ridden country,” said Wendy Tlou, spokeswoman for SA Tourism.
She said people should not be concerned about “isolated incidents,” but added: “We won’t be able to stop every pickpocketer.”
Interpol secretary-general Ronald Noble, on a tour of security facilities in Johannesburg last week, said he was satisfied with South Africa’s plans. The World Cup will have the largest ever deployment of Interpol officers at any global event, with 20 to 25 countries providing additional manpower for the monthlong tournament.
FIFA told The Associated Press it is “pleased with the strong commitment of the South African authorities to do everything possible in their power to ensure a safe and secure event.”
Zweli Mnisi, spokesman for the South African Minister of Police, emphasized the country’s “comprehensive security plan” and said there was no need for additional measures since Terreblanche’s death.
“Buy your tickets, enjoy the games, leave security measures to the police,” Mnisi said.