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By Nasreen Seria and Mike Cohen
South Africa has pulled off what many said couldn’t be done: a soccer World Cup that filled stadiums and gave thousands of fans a party they won’t forget.
The month-long tournament, the world’s most-watched sporting event, ended yesterday with a victory for Spain at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg. Foreign visitors to the competition may have numbered half a million, the Finance Ministry said, exceeding an earlier estimate by 200,000.
The absence of any serious crime, the tournament’s smooth operation and the publicity given to South Africa will help the country shed its reputation for murder and racial tension, said Pratibha Thaker, Africa director at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit. Now, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan says he hopes the country can use that drive to tackle unemployment, AIDS and poor educational standards.
“Before the World Cup, the news was all about crime and AIDS,” Thaker said in a July 5 phone interview. “What we’re seeing now is a very favorable image. This will help to boost tourism and boost the recovery. It’s crucial that the government keeps the momentum going.”
South Africa’s high school graduation rate has dropped for the past six years, more people suffer from AIDS than in any other country, 2.1 million people are on waiting lists for public housing and the 25.2 percent jobless rate is the highest of 62 countries tracked by Bloomberg.