- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 16, 2009

RUSTENBURG, SOUTH AFRICA (AP) - Fistus Nape sits on the corner waiting, his belly filled with hunger, hoping that one of the passing cars will pull over to offer him work.

For the 62-year-old Rustenburg native, it’s been like that for most of his life, and he doesn’t expect anything to change just because the World Cup is soon coming to South Africa.

In less than a year, 32 teams from around the world will play in soccer’s marquee event in Africa for the first time. Since being awarded the tournament in 2004, South Africa has endured questions over security fears, transport problems and stadium preparations.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who pushed to bring the tournament to Africa, waved away the skepticism again this week by insisting that critics should forget about a Plan B and celebrate the World Cup’s arrival.

With this month’s Confederations Cup as a prelude, African soccer fans feel it is their time to rejoice. Billboards across the country spell out “Ke Nako,” which translates from Sotho to “Now it’s Time.”

“It’s a great honor for us, the people of Rustenburg,” said 35-year-old Michael Mekgwe, who watched European champion Spain practice alongside his 5-year-old daughter Oratile. “It’s an opportunity that comes here once _ you wait many years for it. You never think you’ll see this here.”

Blatter believes the tournament’s legacy will benefit millions on the continent and changes have already been noted in Rustenburg, a city about 60 miles northwest of Johannesburg that will host four matches during this year’s two-week tournament that acts as the warmup for next year’s main event.

But Nape believes his situation will improve little and he’ll be sitting at the same corner on President Mbeki Drive alongside other job hunters for many years to come.

“We suffer a lot. People don’t realize how much we suffer. There are no jobs, nothing,” said Nape, a father of five whose hopes of earning $18.50 were quickly wilting away as the warm afternoon wore on.

Nape, whose Tswana name is Phochi, is eager to work so he can buy a ticket for one of the games at Royal Bafokeng stadium, but the cheapest ones _ at $8.75 _ were sold out with only 210 $26 seats remaining for some games.

“Everyday we come back here. Everyday we wait. Where is the money that was supposed to change things? I don’t think we will ever see it,” he said. “Nothing has improved. It’s all stayed the same thing.”

Some things have changed, however, as road infrastructure has opened up this platinum mining town of 1 million and upgrades to the 10-year-old Royal Bafokeng stadium are complete.

“Yes, there will be a lot of change,” local businessman Dawie Molate said. “I expect that the Rainbow Nation will improve its ties with others.”

But while the 62-year-old Molate sees improvement, he also sees obstacles put in place by the very same people who promised him change.

Molate wants to set up stands along the same new roads that lead up to the 45,000-seat stadium to offer fans a chance to stop off and buy local arts and crafts, which would be made on the spot by artisans to provide a taste of African culture.

But that won’t be possible since those designated areas will be available only for FIFA sponsors. Local street traders will be allowed to set up shop only outside the designated stadium precinct so that they don’t become a “nuisance,” according to Kathy Matshidiso, manager of the municipality’s legacy development.

“I don’t expect much,” Molate said, referring to his own economic benefits.

Although the guest houses and hotels of Rustenburg are sure to see extra profits, many expect fans to stay 25 miles away in Sun City, famed for its casinos, game reserves and Las Vegas-fueled atmosphere.

Although the list of obstacles are long, Matshidiso is confident that Rustenburg will get there, especially in terms of major improvements to tourist information, telecommunications infrastructure, the building of new sports grounds and jobs, which are needed with a quarter of the population unemployed.

More than 480 jobs were created by the four road projects, which included women from villages around Rustenburg.

That’s part of the recipe for success.

“The World Cup won’t change everything but it could help get us on our way,” Matshidiso said. “South Africans have to embrace it and want to change it themselves, also.”

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