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South Africa Upgrades Transportation Network Before World Cup

Johannesburg's extensively refurbished international airport can now handle 28 million passengers yearly
Johannesburg's extensively refurbished international airport can now handle 28 million passengers yearly

Preparations are in the final stages for the June 11th kick-off of the football World Cup. One of the world's biggest sporting events is being held for the first time on African soil. South Africa has spent billions of dollars preparing for the event, including more than $2 billion upgrading transportation networks.

The first impression of many foreign fans arriving for the football World Cup will be the five-story-high arrivals hall at Johannesburg's extensively refurbished international airport.

The South African government has spent nearly $700 million on this airport alone. It has nearly doubled passenger capacity at Africa's largest airport from 17 million passengers a year to 28 million.

It has also linked the domestic and international terminals and modernized ticketing counters, shops and food outlets.

Airports Company of South Africa manages the country's largest airports. Company spokesman Solomon Makgale says the five-year project has created a premium-quality facility.

"This is a world-class airport that you will [would] probably see in Europe or other parts of America. It is really built up to international standards and in some instances we would like to believe we have surpassed the benchmarks that have been set," he said.

President Jacob Zuma last month inaugurated the new international airport at Durban. He said it came as the country prepared to experience what he called the largest wave of aviation traffic in its history. "We are thrilled by the fact that we are able to present the World Cup in a South Africa that is going through a huge building and reconstruction phase," he said.

The billion-dollar facility can handle more than 7 million passengers and 50,000 tons of cargo a year.

The government has also modernized and nearly doubled passenger capacity at the airports of Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth. The upgrades are to help meet an ambitious goal of increasing tourist arrivals from 10 million per year to 15 million in the next five years.

More than $2 billion have been spent upgrading overland transportation. Construction has begun on a new, high-speed railway line linking Johannesburg and Pretoria. The first link, between Johannesburg's financial center, Sandton, and the airport is to be open in time for the World Cup.

A new, 500-vehicle rapid-transit bus system is also being rolled out in the country's largest cities.

The improvements to infrastructure are not just for the thousands of foreign fans who will visit during the tournament. They are meant to support the country's growing economy for decades to come.

Makgale says special efforts have also been made to improve security and deal with any terrorist threats at the country's transportation hubs.

"We have been working very closely with South African Police Service. They have got members of the South African police in the terminal building patrolling at all times. We have now supported them by hiring a private security company that is also patrolling and monitoring the public areas," Makgale said.

Although South Africans say there may be some minor problems during the Cup, many see it is an opportunity to showcase their country and the hospitality of its citizens.