Since gaining freedom in 1994, South Africa has hosted major sporting events like the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the 1996 African Cup of Nations, the 2003 Cricket World Cup, the Women’s World Cup of Golf in 2005 and in 2006 the only street race in the inaugural A1 GP World Cup of Motorsport. It has also hosted many other events of less significance.
On each of these occasions, Zimbabwe did not benefit much. Little or nothing was done to ensure that Zimbabwe took advantage of its location, hospitality, tourist resorts and other natural endowments to cash in on these tournaments.
Of course, Zimbabwe has not only failed to capitalise on these but has also botched plans to host some of them, particularly the African Cup of Nations. Failure to host the African Nations Cup has been damaging to the country’s reputation when countries with a lot of problems like Burkina Faso and Angola have been able to organise them against the odds.
Now we are about to witness the biggest squandering of opportunities by Zimbabwe in June. The FIFA World Cup tournament, the world’s biggest sporting event in the world after the Olympic Games in magnitude and dimension (in terms of television audiences the FIFA World Cup is bigger than the Olympics), is due to begin in Johannesburg –– 586 km from our border. One of the World Cup venues –– Peter Mokoba Stadium in Polokwane –– is only 200km away!
The World Cup will boost South Africa’s economy is unprecedented ways.According to consulting firm Grant Thornton, the World Cup will pump around R21,3 billion into South Africa’s economy, generating an estimated R12,7-billion in direct spending and creating an estimated hundreds of thousands of new jobs. The country’s tourism industry will benefit from the estimated three million visitors expected for the tournament, while construction and engineering companies have benefited from the billions spent on infrastructure in the run-up to the event.
However, the indirect spin-offs of an improved image abroad could have an even greater long-term benefit for South Africa.
Zimbabwe should benefit from the spin-offs. However, the country is ill-prepared to say the least for the event. Nothing serious has been done to attract tourists and countries going through to the World Cup Finals.
There has been no upgrade of the transport and communications network. The roads, railways, airports and border posts have not been rehabilitated after extensive ruin due to misrule. Beitbridge is an ongoing disaster.
The hotels and other accommodation facilities have not been seriously improved. Tourist resorts themselves have not been spruced up.
Above all, stadiums have not been refurbished. That is why the country has not been able to host the African Nations Cup –– failure to build and improve infrastructure.
Government has only committed a paltry $13,6 million for the development and rehabilitation of our tourism infrastructure. Even then a cursory surveying of the hospitality industry shows nothing much has changed. The quality of hotels in many places, except Victoria Falls and Harare, is very poor and that is a major put-off for teams and tourists.
There are no regular or reliable flights internally. There is only Air Zimbabwe which is known globally for poor service and reliability. Flights between Zimbabwe and South Africa –– a problem of lack of competition which can be partly blamed on government for refusing to allow more players in the market –– are very expensive.
Tourism minister Walter Mzembi held talks with his South African counterpart Martinus van Schalkwyk last week to try to get a slice of the World Cup cake but it’s too late.
Zimbabwean authorities would like 30% of international tourists visiting South Africa during the World Cup to also visit this country. While this is a good idea, the problem is that things have been left too late. Officials have been waxing lyrical about issues while doing nothing about them.
All Zimbabwe has managed to do, after failing to convince big teams like Brazil, England and United States, was to bring North Korea to our shores. This will not help to rehabilitate Zimbabwe’s badly battered image in any way. North Korea is known worldwide as a rogue state committed to producing nuclear bombs and other deadly weapons while its citizens starve.
Besides, North Korea among some Zimbabweans conjures up a flood of nightmarish memories. North Korea trained and armed government’s killing squads –– the Fifth Brigade –– during the 1980s. The storm-troopers went on to kill more than 20 000 civilians during civil strife in the country’s south western region. North Korea’s coming to Zimbabwe has already provoked a storm of protest among human rights activists. This will not help the country at all but only confirm its status as an outpost of tyranny.
While Zimbabwe is busy bungling, other countries in the region are already positioned to benefit from the World Cup.
It’s a terrible shame!