Johannesburg — The Local Organising Committee (LOC), which has been working tirelessly preparing for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, has assured the continent that South Africa is ready to host the tournament.
With just eight days to go before the opening match between South Africa and Cape Verde at National Stadium, the LOC says it has put in place plans that will ensure that every team and visitor to South Africa will be provided with an environment to enjoy the tournament and compete equally.
LOC chairman Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana said at a New Age breakfast briefing in Johannesburg on Friday that it was all systems go for the continental tournament. He believed the event would be a great success.
"The Orange Afcon 2013 awaits us. We will receive a multitude of people on our shores. Let them feel the 'Beat at Africa's Feet'. Let us receive them with the spirit of Ubuntu as we celebrate Africa."
South Africa took over the hosting of the tournament from Libya, which withdrew following the political turmoil during the Arab Spring.
Having hosted a spectacular 2010 FIFA World Cup, with the highest standard sporting facilities and infrastructure, South Africa was the logical choice to take over from Libya in a short space of time.
The tournament will be played in five cities and towns - Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, Durban, Nelspruit and Rustenburg. All of them have upgraded or newly-built stadia.
The LOC has set a ticket sale target of 500 000 tickets. But current sales currently stand around 320 000, with a collective stadium capacity of over 800 000 seats.
The slow tickets sales have been blamed on a lack of marketing of the tournament.
LOC CEO Mvuzo Mbebe said it had been difficult to market the tournament properly because of financial constraints.
"But we did the bit that we could with the limited resources we had," he said, adding that marketing would be increased in the coming week.
Afcon funding should not be compared with the FIFA World Cup marketing, which was driven by sponsors, he explained. "Now it's the prerogative of the LOC."
Mbebe said the hosting of the tournament was going to benefit the country in many ways.
Some of the benefits include the 40 000 visitors who are expected to come from outside the country, and 10 000 temporary jobs which will be created for the duration of the tournament. R920 million has been invested in South Africa and 2.3 billion viewers are expected to watch the tournament on television.
"The most important thing is to make sure that the all the stadiums are full," said Mbebe, who did not think the long distances between hosting cities would affect the numbers at the stadia.
The committee has formed clusters with various government departments such as the Department of Home Affairs and the Police to assist in ensuring that the tournament was a success.
Home Affairs has planned for the large numbers of visitors and beefed up staff at the country's entry points. The department's Director-General Mkuseli Apleni said their slogan for Afcon was: "Embrace peace and diversity".
The department will grant visa waivers to the Confederation of African Football (CAF) delegation as well as national teams as not all African countries were exempt from visa requirements to enter the country.
The public broadcaster, which has the broadcasting rights, has also promised to broadcast all the games. SABC COOHlaudi Motsoeneng said they would have the best quality pictures.
The Department of Sport and Recreation said it would set up public viewing areas in Orange Farm, Diepkloof, Sedibeng, Tshwane, Diepsloot and Ivory Park, among others.
Sports and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbabula encouraged South Africans to rise to the occasion and welcome visitors from other countries, as well as fill the stadia and support the national team.
Although South Africa lost 1-0 to Norway in a friendly warm-up match this week, Mbabula was confident the national team would do well. "Give the coach and Bafana bafana a chance. Let's go, ke nako, eyethu (it's time, it's ours)!"
This view was shared by the South Africa Football Association President, Kirsten Nematandani, who was also confident Bafana Bafana would do well, especially considering the tournament would be held on home soil.
Mbalula added that the tournament would have rewarding benefits for the country, such as exposing South Africa to tourism and the creation of jobs.
"The team is looking good. They have the backing of the whole of South Africa. Although they lost to Norway, we need to score goals. We can't hold back, we need to go out and win for the whole country," he said, calling on South Africans to get their tickets.
For the opening match on January 19, category 1 and 2 tickets (at R100 and R200 respectively) had been sold out, with only category 3 (R50) tickets available.
The opening match will be played between Bafana Bafana and Cape Verde at National Stadium in Johannesburg.
Meanwhile, legendary former Bafana player, Doctor Khumalo, is expected to visit Daliwonga School in Dube, Soweto, today to drum up excitement ahead of Afcon, as well as donate school sport equipment in preparation for 2013 School Sport League.
Khumalo will be accompanied by various officials from the department and LOC.