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Volunteers Prepare for South Africa World Cup Visitors

World Cup volunteers

As South Africa prepares to host the football (soccer) World Cup, organizers have recruited thousands of volunteers to help the hundreds of thousands of fans who will be attending.

Some 2,000 World Cup volunteers gathered at a convention hall in Johannesburg recently for three days of training.

They were among a total of 18,000 volunteers who were chosen from nearly 70,000 applicants from 170 countries. Their job will be to provide information, directions and translations to 400,000 foreign fans who are expected for football's World Cup.

This group is to work at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium. The 90,000-seat arena is hosting seven matches, including the opening and final games, as well as a star-studded music concert the night before kick-off on June 11.

World Cup coordinator, Sibongile Mazibuko
World Cup coordinator, Sibongile Mazibuko

The city's World Cup coordinator, Sibongile Mazibuko, says volunteers must be friendly, multi-lingual and able to deal with potentially difficult fans.

"The volunteer is actually the face of South Africa to anyone who will be coming here for first time, even those that will be coming here for the second or third time who actually don't know our venue well. But it will also be the smile, the smile that says you are welcome," Mazibuko said.

The volunteers will be paid the equivalent of $14 per day to cover expenses. An additional 3,000 volunteers coming from abroad will pay their own way.

Andrew Drummond is the oldest volunteer of this group. The 74-year-old native of Scotland has lived in Johannesburg for 44 years. He says he is looking forward to making new friends and helping visitors in his adopted home.

"I went to Australia for the Olympic Games in 2000 and the best part of that was the volunteers. They were everywhere and they were mainly pensioners, believe it or not. And they were great people. They were wonderful. When I saw this advert that they wanted volunteers [for the 2010 World Cup] I said to my wife, I'm going. I'm going to do this thing. So, that's why I got [came] here," he said.

Many of the volunteers say they applied for the job because they wanted to be part of the first World Cup to be held on African soil.

Like most students, Shirley Nathye, 21, will be on holiday during the month-long event. "I just wanted to be part of 2010 World Cup. I am not doing anything so I might as well as contribute by giving back to the community," she said.

Robert Nephalama, who works at a bank near Johannesburg, wants to make the tournament a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the visitors as well.

"For me being a volunteer, I do believe that I am going to make a difference to those guys that are coming to South Africa," he explained. "So that even if the World Cup is over they will feel that they should come [back] because of the experience that we gave them."

Simon Bobbejaan, 27, works at a guest house and as a tourism ambassador in neighboring North West Province. He has a message for visitors. "We are going to make your stay a memorable one. You will come back. And we are looking for you to come back because you are going to experience things that you have never experienced in your country," he said.

The volunteers are expected to know many facts about South Africa, the World Cup and its organizers. And they must also know the cities and the stadiums where they will be stationed.

The highlight of the day's training is learning the World Cup's signature dance, the Diski. The Diski is named after a local term for football and its steps mimic football players' best moves.

Most of the volunteers quickly learn the steps. But a few give up and return, exhausted, to their seats. Fortunately, learning the Diski is not one of the requirements for the job.