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Pensioner dies as South Africans queue for World Cup tickets

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A 64-year-old man dies while waiting to buy tickets for the soccer World Cup in South Africa
  • Cape Town police say the pensioner had been number 555 in the queue
  • South Africans had waited up to 20 hours as 500,000 tickets were made available
  • Problems with ticketing machines had caused further delays at some centers, FIFA said

Johannesburg, South Africa (CNN) -- A South African pensioner has died while waiting in a queue to buy tickets for the soccer World Cup, with people lining up for 20 hours in some cases and system problems causing further delays.

Cape Town police spokesperson Ezra October confirmed to CNN that 64-year-old Ralph van Heerden collapsed and died while waiting to purchase 11 World Cup tickets on Thursday morning.

He was certified dead by paramedics when they arrived on the scene at around 7:15 a.m. local time (0515 GMT). It is believed that he had a heart problem. According to police, paramedics tried to resuscitate him but failed.

The man had waiting in line for five hours and was number 565 in the queue.

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South Africans across the country have been queuing since Wednesday afternoon in a last-minute bid to be part of the first football World Cup on the continent, with 500,000 tickets still available.

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CNN's Nkepile Mabuse was in a queue outside the Sandown ticketing center in Johannesburg, one of 11 across the country.

She said the first person in line there had been waiting for 20 hours -- and then he had to wait an extra hour due to problems with the ticket machines.

"I talked to a member of the local organizing committee and he said the system had crashed. The tickets couldn't be printed," Mabuse said.

The tickets will be available only to South Africans until 1600 GMT, and from then overseas people will also be able to purchase them through the Web site of soccer's governing body FIFA.

FIFA said 1,610 tickets were sold to 310 customers nationally at the ticketing center within the first hour on Thursday morning, with 2,166 tickets bought by 470 fans at branches of the First National Bank.

"There was a massive demand for tickets this morning, which we are delighted with. We experienced some delays in issuing tickets at the outset, but we have been working on improving the response time of the system," said James Byrom of FIFA's official ticketing service provider MATCH.

It has been very difficult for South Africans to get tickets. The majority of people are poor
--CNN's Nkepile Mabuse
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Mabuse said it is likely there will be empty seats at some of the tournament's group-stage games, especially outside the main cities, despite South Africans being offered tickets at a discounted rate of $18.

"It is going to be very difficult to sell them all -- only 220,000 were sold at the last phase," she said. Many of the 500,000 tickets made available had been returned from overseas affiliates.

"There are fewer foreign fans coming than originally expected. There were 450,000 expected but it will be nowhere that, people have been saying it'll be more like 300-350,000."

Another problem for local organizers is that South Africans are used to buying tickets on the day of events. Tickets had previously been only available via the Internet and one South African bank, but organizers have been forced to allow supermarkets to become outlets as well as the 11 official sales centers.

"It has been very difficult for South Africans to get tickets," Mabuse said. "The majority of people here are poor and they can't afford to buy tickets. And only 10 percent of the population have access to the Internet."

FIFA gave away many tickets at the Confederations Cup in South Africa last year to avoid the prospect of empty stadiums, but Mabuse said that was unlikely to be repeated at the World Cup.

"I asked FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke and he said that was not going to happen again -- they would rather have some empty seats than give tickets away," she said.

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