WITH under a week to go until the Orange Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) kicks off, the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality is, belatedly, going all out to drum up support for the continent's soccer showpiece.
Officials went on an "activation trip" through Port Elizabeth's northern areas yesterday to raise awareness of, and create excitement for, the matches.
More activities in other areas are planned for this week.
Organisers came under fire last week for not doing enough to market the tournament, which will see 16 teams battling it out to be crowned Africa's best. Ticket sales have become central to government unhappiness over tournament organisation.
In North West, where six firstround games will be played, Sport MEC Tebogo Modise is worried about poor ticket sales.
His counterpart in Gauteng is also concerned that many fans who applied for tickets last year have still not received them.
In the Eastern Cape, however, there has been a late surge in sales, with nearly 11000 additional tickets sold in the last few days.
Afcon local organising committee (LOC) communications head Sipho Sithole said while the Bay was still lagging in ticket sales, 41854 had been sold for the eight games – with double fixtures on two dates, two single matches, plus a quarter-final and third-place playoff – to be played at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, up from last week's 31052.
The stadium can seat 48000, so total sales potential for the six dates is 288000, meaning just under 14.5% of tickets have been pre-sold so far.
As the municipal roadshow proved yesterday, there are many who still do not know about Afcon – or that several games are being played in Port Elizabeth. Northern areas residents, including those in Booysen Park, Bloemendal and Gelvandale, enjoyed the show which saw officials dressed in yellow T-shirts drive around in a convoy led by a sound truck. Some blew on vuvuzelas while motorists hooted.
The tournament's official mascot, Takuma, joined in the fun and Afcon dancers entertained the crowds.
Fiona Alexandra, 49, of Booysen Park, was among those who enjoyed the festivities, even though she had no idea beforehand what it was about. "I am not a sports person and was not even aware that there are countries coming here for soccer games," she said.
Nkululeko Ngola, 22, also knew nothing about the event, but said he was "100% behind Bafana Bafana".
Elton Jenneker, 32, could not wait for the games to begin.
"I want to watch the game between Nigeria and South Africa, but I think Nigeria will take the cup as they are the best," he said.
John Schuter, 56, will be attending two games – Ghana versus the DRC and Mali against Niger on Sunday – courtesy of a free ticket from the region's ANC chairman, Samuel Davids.
"Oh my word! I don't know what to say except to thank Davids for his generosity.
"I will pray very hard for South Africa to win the cup," Schuter said.
Municipal spokesman Mthubanzi Mniki said the LOC hoped to create hype around the tournament with the roadshows.
"We want the community to embrace the tournament and, most importantly, welcome the visitors. We are also encouraging people to buy their tickets in time, because without the people at the stadium the tournament will be a failure."
Sithole urged those who had applied for tickets to go to the various points where they had done so. "It's not possible to contact all the 500000 people [who had applied for tickets]," he said.
His comments came after Gauteng Sport MEC Lebogang Maile lashed out at organisers for not doing enough promotion.
"The LOC must assist all those people [who applied for tickets] to get their tickets as a matter of urgency," Maile said.
He was disappointed there were no signs that the tournament was coming to South Africa in under a week's time.
"Some 12 months or so before the start of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, there were billboards all over the country.
"Even a week before the start of the Afcon games. there are no marketing and promotional campaigns suggesting there is a big soccer tournament.
"We [the Gauteng provincial government] have billboards on behalf of the City of Johannesburg.
"We created a platform for the LOC to come and address the people of Gauteng on how to apply for Afcon tickets. They did not turn up at our roadshows, missing an opportunity for the LOC to also market and promote the tournament."
Local organising committee chief executive Mvuso Mbebe said he would not get involved in mudslinging.
"This tournament is not about an individual but for South Africa," he said.
Mbebe said Maile should stop blaming the organisers.
He said host cities had received money directly from the National Treasury to market and promote the event.
"He [Maile] can be as emotional as he wants, but the fact is that they [the Gauteng government] have done nothing," he said.
"We expect a big demand [for tickets] in the next two to four days."
Eastern Province soccer boss Mzimkhulu Fina previously also lashed out at the LOC, saying not enough marketing had been done and that there were very few billboards around the Bay.
The tournament kicks off on Saturday at 6pm with the opening match between South Africa and Cape Verde at Soccer City in Soweto.
It will be followed at the same venue on the same night by a match between Angola and Morocco, starting at 9pm.
The tournament gets under way in Port Elizabeth at the Bay stadium.
There Ghana will play the Democratic Republic of the Congo at 5pm on Sunday.
Mali will then face Niger at 8pm.