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Opinion: Why Zimbabwe missed out on World Cup benefits

No foreign tourists or investment spillover from South Africa to its northern neighbor.

Despite popular enthusiasm, Zimbabwe’s bid to ride on the back of this huge sporting extravaganza has proved disappointing. Most of the schemes to improve local stadiums and other infrastructure fizzled out. Hotels put on hold plans for expansion while fleets of new taxis were unable to find customers.

Much of this can be ascribed to poor planning and a shortage of capital. Zimbabwe is broke and depends on donor support. South Africa next door was able to tap into vast resources including bank loans, state subsidies and engineering expertise.

South Africa also had good planning. Spanking new high-speed trains run every few minutes to Johannesburg airport, impressive new stadiums have mushroomed across the country and hotels record full occupancy rates, even with inflated prices. A high speed rail link from Harare’s Chitungwiza dormitory town to the city center has failed to materialize after Mugabe first mooted the project 20 years ago.

Zimbabwe proved unable to siphon the army of international transient fans who followed their teams to South Africa to come north to its secure and well-stocked national parks. The country’s premier resort, Victoria Falls, did attract tourists — but only to the Zambian side.

The central problem is one of perception. Whatever the quality of Zimbabwe’s patched-up roads and scenic resorts, visitors to South Africa saw its northern neighbor as a rogue state with leaders who denounce the West and lock up civic activists.

This proved to be less than seductive.