Strike impact: S.African police will keep expanded security duties throughout World Cup

By Mike Corder, AP
Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Police to keep new stadium duties thru World Cup

JOHANNESBURG — With a labor dispute in stalemate, the South African police said Wednesday they will handle security at four major stadiums for the rest of the World Cup.

Because of a strike by privately hired security stewards over wages, police had already taken over their duties on an interim basis. The new announcement made clear that authorities no longer expect a settlement, and the police takeover will last through the final on July 11.

The decision, made after a meeting between police officials and the local organizing committee, affects two Johannesburg stadiums — Soccer City and Ellis Park, and stadiums at Durban and Cape Town. Even before the labor dispute, police had been handling most security duties at a fifth stadium in Port Elizabeth.

Five other stadiums have not been affected by the protest.

Soccer City — the largest of the World Cup venues — will host its first match under police-staffed security when Argentina plays South Korea on Thursday.

“Our priority is the safety of the tournament and the country as a whole,” said the national police commissioner, Gen. Bheki Cele. “We will perform our responsibilities with diligence and pride”.

The protests began Sunday night when police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets to disperse stewards in Durban who were angry about their wages and refused to leave Moses Mabhida Stadium.

The dispute spread to Johannesburg on Tuesday. South African police deployed 1,000 officers to screen more than 54,000 fans arriving for Brazil’s 2-1 victory over North Korea at Ellis Park after employees from security contractor Stallion walked out hours before the evening kickoff.

The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union, which represents many security workers, said it had asked the Labor Department to investigate whether laws were broken during the recruitment of the security stewards.

“FIFA and the local organizing committee are fully responsible for the fiasco that is unfolding,” the union said in a statement. “These bodies have created a situation which is undermining our national pride, and they should be made liable.”

According to the union, most of the security workers hired for the World Cup did not have written contracts, were paid less than promised, received inadequate training and were forced to work in substandard conditions.

Rich Mkhondo, spokesman for the local organizing committee, declined to address how the organizers, who are responsible for all venue security at the World Cup, would pay for using additional police.

Asked whether organizers were preparing to fire Stallion, which was contracted to provide security at the five stadiums now under police control, Mkhondo said he had “no comment about this issue.”

FIFA spokesman Nicolas Maingot said he was not aware if the organization would be required to help fund the policing bill.

In Durban, stewards joined community activists Wednesday in a peaceful rally of about 800 people outside City Hall to protest the World Cup, which they say has directed public funds away from providing housing and jobs.

Protesters held placards that said “Apartheid Still Exists” and “World Cup for All! People Before Profit.”

“Today’s march is to give a voice to people who have been left out of the World Cup and to protect people who are being exploited by companies involved in the World Cup,” said Lubna Nadvi, from the Durban Social Forum.

Cyril Xaba, a special adviser to the provincial prime minister in KwaZulu-Natal, said the government could not intervene in the labor dispute, which could be settled by a state-funded arbitration committee.

“People have benefited from the World Cup,” Xaba said. “Roads are built, stadiums were built and that brought jobs. There was also more work in the hospitality industry and more taxes raised by the government — so everyone benefits from this, even when it’s not visible straight away.

“Of course, we are not naive and we realize that not everyone can benefit directly,” he said. “I sympathize with them.”

Mike Corder reported from Durban, South Africa. Associated Press writers Derek Gatopoulos in Durban and David Crary in Johannesburg contributed to this report.

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