Magazine article New African

'Thank You Africa, Thank You South Africa': Football's Showpiece Event Began with a Star-Studded Opening Ceremony at Johannesburg's Impressive Soccer City Stadium on 11 June. Osasu Obayiuwana, Who Is Covering the Month-Long Tournament, Witnessed the Event

Magazine article New African

'Thank You Africa, Thank You South Africa': Football's Showpiece Event Began with a Star-Studded Opening Ceremony at Johannesburg's Impressive Soccer City Stadium on 11 June. Osasu Obayiuwana, Who Is Covering the Month-Long Tournament, Witnessed the Event

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

After 2,218 days of waiting for football's showpiece event to begin--following the award of the hosting rights to South Africa on 15 May 2004--the first World Cup on African soil began with an exciting two-hour cultural extravaganza at Johannesburg's Soccer City, rebuilt in the shape of a multi-coloured calabash.

With a host of musical superstars, including Nigeria's Femi Kuti and American R Kelly, performing at the tournament's opening ceremony, which was executed with precision and panache, it was a credit to the organisational capabilities of the South Africans.

As several critical European commentators had questioned the decision of FIFA, football's world governing body, to award the hosting rights to South Africa, claiming it lacked the infrastructure and manpower to host the world, the start of the tournament was no less a moment to savour for the FIFA president, Joseph Blatter.

"Thank you Africa, thank you South Africa. You have shown the world that you can do it! It has been a long journey but we are here," he said on the podium placed on the Soccer City turf.

Although the tournament's opening ceremony, formally declared open by President Jacob Zuma, the country's president, was witnessed by several heads of state including Goodluck Jonathan (Nigeria), Evo Morales (Bolivia) and Felipe Calderon (Mexico), as well as Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, the absence of the iconic Nelson Mandela was palpable.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The former state president, now a frail 91-year-old, was billed to make a very brief appearance at the ceremony, despite the harsh winter temperatures. But he was compelled to stay away after Zenani, his 13-year-old granddaughter, died in a car crash after attending the World Cup opening concert at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto.

A statement from the Nelson Mandela Foundation said the car involved in the accident was driven by 23-year-old Sizwe Mankazana, the son of the partner of Zenani Mandela-Dlamini, Mandela's eldest daughter. He was taken in by the police for questioning.

Notwithstanding the tragedy, ordinary South Africans and fans from other parts of the globe savoured the flavour of the World Cup. …

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