The British and Irish Lions were reassured of their safety amid a growing number of deaths linked to looting and arson in South Africa, a tourist security official told AFP on Wednesday.
As of Tuesday evening, the unrest had killed 72 people, the police saying that many deaths were the result of “jostling during incidents of looting of shops”.
“There have been discussions with the Lions and the security has increased,” said the security official, who requested anonymity because he is not an authorized spokesperson.
“South Africa is a vast country in terms of size and the Western Cape is far from the most affected area. I would say it is currently the safest part of the country. “
Looting and arson began after former President Jacob Zuma was jailed last week for contempt of court with his home province of KwaZulu-Natal in the south-eastern part of the country and Gauteng hit hard.
As troops were deployed to support the police, government officials said criminal elements took advantage of the situation to loot shops and large warehouses, and burn some of them.
The central Gauteng province includes the economic hub, Johannesburg, and the administrative capital, Pretoria.
The Lions arrived in South Africa on June 28 for an eight-game tour and played for Gauteng three times before flying to Cape Town last weekend.
As they landed in Johannesburg, the city was battling a wave of the third wave of coronavirus, which has eased slightly since as the number of cases declined.
– Most affected –
There had been 2,219,316 official cases of Covid-19 in South Africa on Tuesday evening and 65,142 deaths in the African country most affected by the pandemic.
The Lions are expected to play three matches in Cape Town, starting with South Africa A on Wednesday, before returning to Johannesburg for two tests that will complete the tour.
Lions coach Warren Gatland told an online press conference last week that he believed the second and third tests would be transferred to Cape Town.
One potential hurdle, however, is that the Gauteng government has invested in the two internationals which are expected to take place behind closed doors at the FNB stadium.
South Africa A captain and center and winner of the 2019 World Cup, Lukhanyo Am, has said that rugby has a key role to play in boosting South Africans’ morale.
“One of the main reasons the Springboks exist is to give hope to our people and to add smiles to faces.
“We will never forget that when we won the World Cup, people of all colors spoke only one language: rugby. Everybody was happy. This is the kind of hope we want to build.
“If our job is to get an opportunity to unite the country, that’s what we’re aiming for.
“We have the opportunity to play Lions and show South Africa that once we work together and radiate positive energy, anything is possible. “
© 2021 AFP