Business, Sport, Politics

Fifa, the real master of the universe, gets its claws into SA justice system

By Andy Rice 4 June 2010

On Thursday the South African government handed over more power to Fifa, this time 56 special courts that will operate for the duration of the World Cup (and just happen to have cost taxpayers R45 million). What master wants, master gets, and be warned: Fifa is relishing having the police and justice system at its disposal, all in aid of making the tournament successful, of course.

The British tabloids announced recently that anyone who breaks the law in South Africa during the World Cup will receive a complimentary Hannibal Lecter straightjacket and free train ride to the Karoo.

In announcing 56 special World Cup courts on Thursday, the South African government said it didn’t get that particular memo – but will be sure to extradite convicts in a polite and swift fashion, and without any Stalin-era gulags. And yet, listening to Fifa’s general secretary Jérôme Valcke, one kind of got the feeling that if they could… they probably would.

A bit of background: When Fifa and South Africa were planning the World Cup all those years ago, crime must have popped up on the agenda.

FIFA: You guys better do something about that

DANNY: Yes master.

And so, Jeff Radebe and his Ministry of Justice pulled R45 million out of the kitty and began setting up special courts around the country.  Hundreds of magistrates, prosecutors, legal aid lawyers, court orderlies (those snoozing police officers) and translators were chosen and placed on stand-by.

The 56 courts will run late into the night, seven days a week, and – all going according to plan – will finalise cases in a matter of days. This will save visitors the pain of coming back to South Africa to testify and – knowing our system – watching in horror as their case is postponed yet again. The courts mean good overtime pay for those involved – so, in theory, they should function well. They opened for business on May 28 and will remain in operation until July 25.

The launch of these courts took place yesterday at the Randburg Magistrate’s Court in northern Johannesburg. (No, we don’t know why it was held a week after the courts opened.)  The function turned out to be a World Cup special: the tent, the big speakers, the vuvuzelas, the diski dancers and a handful of dignitaries. Radebe was obviously there, as was the National Prosecuting Authority’s resident DIY expert Menzi Simelane, Danny Jordaan, Fifa man Valcke and former soccer legend turned guest speaker Lucas Radebe.

The speeches went off okay – despite the MC assuming the chief magistrate at the court was a man, when she is very much a woman. That awkward moment aside, the speakers took turns to tell us (just in case we didn’t know it yet) that South Africa is ready for the World Cup.

An interesting bit came from Simelane, who revealed the special courts have already dealt with four cases. These aren’t exactly terrorists caught moments before blowing up a stadium – but they are rather interesting. One involves a Frenchman drinking and driving in Durban. The courts are waiting for blood tests (everybody take a long breath), after which the trial will resume. Another is the theft of a laptop from a Peruvian, but the case was dropped due to lack of evidence. The third saw a visiting businessman steal a camera from another, but was also dropped after the company decided to deal with the matter internally. And then, of course, there is the case of the two hotel cleaners who allegedly cleaned out the Colombian soccer team at their fancy hotel in Hyde Park. That one is dragging out and was postponed again yesterday.

Simelane says the system is ready.  We’ll wait and see before making that judgment.

The coup de grâce came from Valcke, who spoke about our police officers and courts as a tool at his disposal. He began by admitting (and it makes sense in a French accent): “Very often people are saying, but why Fifa wants this, Fifa wants that, and Fifa is a bad company or institution, that Fifa is taking over South Africa…”

He then reminded the room that “football is hope” and hope equals world peace. Or something like that.

And then the darkness descended (at least it would have in a movie): “We will protect our World Cup whatever we have to do – that’s very clear. Even if we again are looking as bad guys… or me personally as a bad guy… but that’s my role… is to protect the world cup… and to protect Fifa… and that’s what I will do. And to do this I need the police, I need the justice… Because the World Cup has to be a success.”

Yes master.

By Alex Eliseev

Eliseev is an Eyewitness News reporter.

Photo: Danny Jordaan, chief executive of the 2010 FIFA World Cup local organising committee, talks to FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke (R) after a news conference in Johannesburg April 8, 2010. REUTERS/Peter Andrews


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