South Africa is ready to host a successful 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), the local organising committee (LOC) assured the continent on Friday.
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 Mwelo Nonkonyana told at a New Age breakfast briefing in Johannesburg on Friday that it was all systems go for the continent's showpiece sporting event.
The 'Beat at Africa's Feet'
"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," Nonkonyana said.
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 at such short notice.
The tournament will be played in five cities - Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, Durban, Nelspruit and Rustenburg. All of them have upgraded or newly built stadiums.
The LOC has set a ticket sale target of 500 000 tickets. Sales currently stand at 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 added.
Mbebe said the hosting of the tournament was going to benefit the country in many ways, with 40 000 visitors expected to come from outside the country, 10 000 temporary jobs set to be created, and 2.3-billion global viewers are expected to follow the tournament on television.
"The most important thing is to make sure that the all the stadiums are full," said Mbebe, adding that he did not think the long distances between host cities would affect the numbers.
Moving the fans
The committee has been working with the Department of Home Affairs and the SA Police Service to ensure that the tournament is a success.
Home Affairs has planned for the large numbers of visitors and beefed up its 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 are exempt from visa requirements to enter the country.
Public viewing areas
The public broadcaster, which has the broadcasting rights, has also promised to broadcast all the games. SABC COO Hlaudi 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 stadiums 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.
"The team is looking good. They have the backing of the whole of South Africa ... 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 between Bafana Bafana and Cape Verde at Johannesburg's National Stadium on 19 January, category 1 and 2 tickets (at R100 and R200 respectively) had been sold out, with only category 3 (R50) tickets available.