...to formerly underserved rural areas and townships. “It was the right thing to do and overdue,” said a former Eskom employee who requested anonymity. “But we didn't get paid properly. The rate base just isn't there.”

The country hasn’t brought a new powerplant online in more than 20 years, and Eskom warned that power demand outstripped generation capacity. In 2008, the dire predictions came true: the utility imposed a series of rolling blackouts—strong medicine that left large sectors of the country temporarily powerless and, for the first time ever, caused the shutdown of operations at gold and platinum mines.

As a result, the government quickly dusted off plans to build 4,800-Mw coal-fired plants, one each at Medupi and Kisule. Both are currently under construction. The first units are scheduled to come online beginning in 2012. The World Bank will vote in April on whether to grant a $3.75-billion loan to cover part of the cost. The loan is controversial, in part because a coal-fired powerplant could face a hard time at the World Bank, which is philosophically committed to "green" projects.

Hangars On

The transport sector has its own challenges but seems to be moving forward more smoothly.

ACSA’s current capital improvements program is nearly $700 million, with 60% being spent on the flagship property, O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. Renamed in 2006 for the anti-apartheid activst and former African National Congress leader who died in 1993, ORTIA handles 17 million travelers a year.

Next door to the airport is South African Airways Technical, a division of the country’s flagship carrier. The firm still primarily functions to service aircraft of its parent company, but it also is positioning itself as a major maintenance facility for other carriers.

Despite a slight downturn from the recession, the African commercial aviation market is expanding steadily. “We expect to see a healthy uptick in business this year,” says Ian Cruikshank, the company’s project manager for 2010 World Cup.

Just as more people are expected to come to South Africa this year, so are more planes. And SAA Technical hopes to grow its service business. “Proudly South African” is a World Cup catchphrase, and Cruikshank evoked its spirit by pointing out his employer’s market advantages. “We’re a developed nation, with a trained workforce and excellent facilities. We’re at the tip of Africa, and you’ve really got no place else to go,” he said.

SAA Technical boasts an abundance of maintenance hangars and experienced mechanics who are qualified to perform detailed maintenance and repair on practically every class of commercial aircraft in service today. The company selects 120-150 candidates for its training program every year from more than 9,000 applicants, says Moosa Desai, senior manager of technical sales and marketing.

“For a while, we were losing people to the Emirates and the other Middle Eastern states,” he says. “But now things are looking better here, and some of them are starting to come back home.”

On the east coast, in Kwa Zulu Natal Province, King Shaka International Airport is scheduled to open in May, in time for the World Cup. It will replace Durban International Airport, which is losing international business because its...