Johannesburg - With less than two weeks before the Africa Cup of Nations kick-off, ticket sales have jumped to 60 percent of the target, though still 200 000 short of what would make organisers happy.
Fans dragged their feet when ticket sales opened, and with less than 30 days to go outlets had sold only 60 000.
In two weeks a spike, especially at SuperSpar supermarket outlets, saw sales cross the 300 000 mark. Organisers feel vindicated in their snub of critics' fears over empty stadiums, which are common in the Cup.
Local organising committee spokesman Sipho Sithole said: “Our target is 500 000. It's in sight now.”
It was normal for football fans to wait before buying tickets, he added.
“I guess it's the kind of target market. It's not like a concert which sell from when ticket sales open.”
South Africa will kick off against first-time competitors Cape Verde on January 19 at Soccer City stadium - temporarily renamed the National Stadium - in Soweto, where Spain became world champions in 2010.
Over the following three weeks, 16 of Africa's best teams will fight it out for the continental cup.
But with 11 days to go, the spectre of vacant seats is not over.
Only a quarter of the 200 000 tickets have been sold for games in Rustenburg in the north-west, the base of the 'group of death' involving Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Algeria and Togo.
Here the prospect of seeing world-class players such as Ivorian Didier Drogba in action has so far not drawn spectators.
Despite large ticket sales from some countries - Ethiopia bought 30 000 and defending champions Zambia 15 000 - South Africans still make up the bulk of spectators.
Ticket prices are low, at only R50, yet prohibitive travelling costs in Africa - compounded with the global economic crisis - will keep fans elsewhere on the continent at home.
Economic giant South Africa has attracted many migrant workers from Nigeria, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, who are expected to jump at the opportunity to see their teams play at one of the five stadiums that hosted the 2010 World Cup.
But South African fans have complained that tickets are hard to come by.
EQ Tickets, the company that won the tender to handle ticket sales, chose SuperSpar, a more upper-class supermarket chain that is not easily accessible to working class fans.
Organisers have said the better-known Computicket never submitted a bid, and they've set up caravans to take ticket sales “to the people”.
There've also been “other logistical problems”, Sithole said, such as broken ticket machines.
Ultimately successful attendance will depend on South Africa's performance. The country only qualified through hosting the event, the same as with the World Cup, where it crashed out in the group stages. - AFP