CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) -- South Africa kicked off the one-year countdown to the World Cup in a ceremony Thursday at a half-complete stadium nestled between mighty Table Mountain and the glistening Atlantic.
South African President Jacob Zuma kicked a ball off a stand at the ceremony and said his countrymen have shown they can rise to the challenge of hosting the first African edition of the football tournament.
"We are ready,'' deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe earlier told business delegates at the World Economic Forum on Africa. When asked to rate the country's preparedness on a scale of one to 10, he replied: "More than 10.'
That assessment is optimistic.
While most international attention has focussed on stadium construction and South Africa's ability to protect fans from its notoriously ruthless criminals, the biggest single stumbling block is lack of transport.
All major airports are being upgraded to cope with the crowds. But plans to create urban rapid bus transit systems to supplement erratic and often dangerous minibus taxis are being fiercely resisted by taxi drivers who have threatened to wreak mayhem if they are ignored. Negotiations between government transportation officials and taxi associations were continuing to try to resolve the impasse, even as construction work continued on the bus lanes.
"It is our biggest concern, no question,'' Helen Zille, premier of the Western Cape province, told delegates at the forum.
There are question marks whether there will be enough accommodation for the expected 450,000 fans, and whether South Africa's communications systems will be advanced enough to service the anticipated 15,000 members of the media.
Costs of hosting the 32-team tournament have spiraled way beyond original estimates - about tenfold in the case of stadium construction. And most of the projects were planned and budgeted for when the South African economy was growing. Now it is in recession.
Michael Jordaan, the chief executive officer of South Africa's First National Bank, said the economic benefits of the World Cup were likely overstated. But he said it was the best medicine for the global downturn that has seen South Africa enter its first recession in 17 years.
"It's the best possible time to have investment,'' Jordaan said. "It is the most wonderful thing that we have a deadline. We have to get the stadium ready and the roads. It's very fortuitous that the timing hits us right now.''
The Western Cape alone is spending an additional 12 billion rand on infrastructure that would not otherwise have taken place, Zille said.
"Barack Obama talks about being shovel ready,'' Jordaan said. "We're already shoveling.''
Link to FIFA Official World Cup....... http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/index.html