We will show the world, says Mbeki
By Jillian Green, Peroshni Govender, Gudrun Heckl and Sapa
All the preparations are in place and organisers say they are confident they will make a success of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
An upbeat President Thabo Mbeki heaped praises on the organisers as he opened the Ubuntu Village on Tuesday.
"We will show the world that we are capable of holding such big events, and we must make a success of the summit," he said.
His walkabout added a touch of excitement to the preparations while schoolchildren ran alongside his entourage and workers sang as he passed.
Arrangements for the summit are at an advanced stage as the opening approaches. Apart from some glitches, all appears to be running smoothly as the city prepares for the influx of 40 000 delegates, some of whom have already arrived.
The zeal of security officials appeared to have run away with them in some instances, and the UN had barbed wire surrounding the Sandton Convention Centre removed, saying it "reminded people of a concentration camp".
Organisers of the summit, the Johannesburg World Summit Company (Jowsco), gave the following report card of preparations so far:
Seventy percent of all delegates have no pre-arranged accommodation. Jowsco's communication executive, Thandi Davids, said: "Up to 9 000 delegates are arriving every day without booking accommodation. But there is enough place to accommodate all the delegates."
Hotels were fully booked but there was still room at bed and breakfast and home-stay options, she said.
A joint operational co-ordinating committee, which includes representatives of the WSSD's organisers, Jowsco and the Department of Foreign Affairs, has been formed.
The number of police and others involved in safeguarding the event has not been disclosed, for security reasons.
About 800 metro police officers will assist as well as elements of the SA Air Force, army and military health service. Around 300 police are already patrolling the Sandton City precinct.
A special Johannesburg Metro Police bicycle unit has been created and is staffed with 20 hand-picked, fit officers.
A special intervention unit, consisting of the police Special Task Force and elements of the SANDF's Special Forces, are ready to deal with any hostage situation or attack on VIPs.
Davids said Jowsco and its information technology partner, Hewlett Packard, were ready to deal with busy Internet traffic.
The official website www.summit.com will be able to open 100-million page impressions a day and accommodate 2-million visitors every day. Access to the site was quick on Tuesday.
The Sandton Convention Centre, Ubuntu Village and Nasrec also had media centres, Davids said.
On Monday, there were minor glitches at the Nasrec site, which was plagued with printer failures.
Davids said there were no accurate figures on accreditation. She expected numbers to soar by the end of the week when most UN delegations arrived.
The City of Johannesburg has provided 200 buses, and 27 private bus operators have pledged 800 buses.
There will be 400 minibus taxi drivers who have been trained in advanced driving and customer relations for the summit.
However, The Star experienced problems when we took a delegates' tour starting from Johannesburg International Airport. No one asked for our accreditation letters, and buses took a while to depart.
The transport area was filled with staff on duty ready to help. But the transport pamphlet that we were handed stated that: "Vehicles will not travel empty and will wait an extra 10 minutes if they are less than 50 percent full".
Staff who sell the Welcome Card - the R600 card that allows delegates to use the buses within the WSSD transport route - had no clue how to get to Nasrec.
Jowsco had a health, medical and disaster management plan, and all hospitals were ready, Davids said.
There are over 400 different tours available for Gauteng, South Africa and Africa.
While there were no specific figures on the number of bookings, Davids said last-minute deciders would not be disappointed.
"Volunteers are working like stars," Davids said.
True. Their zeal may be unquestioned, but on Tuesday hundreds of volunteers stood around aimlessly at Nasrec waiting for some direction from organisers.