SPORT and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula on Thursday appealed to the world not to be dissuaded from coming to South Africa to attend next year’s African Nations Cup after the Zambia national team bus was stoned following the visitors’ win over Bafana Bafana in the Nelson Mandela Challenge at Soccer City on Wednesday night.
One of the bus windows shattered and Zambia goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene — who earns a living in South Africa playing for Free State Stars — was struck in the head as the visitors were leaving the Nasrec venue.
The youths — believed to be aged between 12 and 13 years old — were arrested by police shortly after the incident and Mbalula said on Thursday that the suspects should be regarded as "common thugs" rather than as evidence of a possible security risk to the continental tournament.
"These are people who have got no soul," Mbalula said.
"Their actions were the work of common things who cause damage to country’s image.
"The world must not worry about the safety of the tournament because it will not be a problem next year.
"What happened should not deter visitors from coming to our country because the security arrangements will be world-class."
One of the youths was reportedly released into the custody of his parents while another was placed in a place of safety. But police are looking for other perpetrators in connection with the incident.
A dominant Zambia beat Bafana 1-0 at Soccer City in a match that was used to test the stadium’s readiness for the continental showpiece, due to get under way on January 19.
African Nations Cup local organising committee CEO Mvuzo Mbebe told Business Day that the incident — which had become international news — was disturbing and he was to call Confederation of African Football secretary-general Hicham el-Amrani to discuss it.
"I will speak to the secretary-general and really assure him that this was an isolated incident that will not affect the safety of the African Nations Cup next year," he said.
"This country has hosted numerous international events and we have not experienced such conduct," he said.
President of the South African Football Association (Safa), Kirsten Nematandani, personally apologised to his Zambian counterpart, Kalusha Bwalya, and strongly condemned the stoning incident.
"Kalusha understood that this was an isolated incident. Our relationship with Zambia goes beyond the sporting fields," Nematandani said.
"South Africa and Zambia have a bond which dates back to the days of apartheid in which most of our fellow South Africans were harboured by our Zambian counterparts.
"Such an embarrassing behaviour is alien to the South African Football Association and damages the good name of our association and country. We do not want at any time to be associated with these scoundrels of society.
"Such people do not belong to the football family and once the investigations have been concluded, the police should send out a strong message against future perpetrators," he said.
Bwalya issued a statement on the Zambia Football Association website, saying he had accepted Safa’s apology.
He said the two nations should put the incident behind them for the good of the game
"It is unfortunate that all effort and skills displayed on the field by both the Chipolopolo and Bafana Bafana is put aside in place of an unprecedented incident like this," Bwalya said.
"Apologies from Safa have been made and accepted. Let us put this incident behind us for the good of football," he said.
Soccer City will host the opening match between Bafana and Cape Verde, and the venue pitch has already come under scrutiny after a Linkin Park concert last weekend.
The pitch was in a poor condition during the match even after the stadium operator, Stadium Management SA, gave assurances on the eve of the encounter that it would be in good condition.