Soccer City cheered when the giant screens beamed him swaying to music in a South Africa team shirt. Surely, even the dreamer in Desmond Tutu wouldn’t have believed if, 20 years ago, he was told he would live to see this day. But there he was to welcome the world to Africa.
<b1>And though a family tragedy meant Nelson Mandela pulled out at the last minute, he was there in posters that said ‘thank you’, on the screens strung at both ends of the stadium and surely in the hearts of everybody who had managed to break the traffic gridlock to make it on time.
"The spirit of Mandela is in Soccer City,” FIFA president Sepp Blatter said before South Africa president Jacob Zuma declared the Cup open. “You must enjoy the game,” Zuma delivered Mandela’s message and the vuvuzelas droned in appreciation.
By the time the South African national anthem was sung the stadium had filled up, looking like a sea of yellow where thousands of South African flags were aflutter.
They even flirted with notions of what seemed like an impossible victory when Siphiwe Tshabalala’s left-foot drive drilled into the top corner in the 55th minute.
Keeping his calm, Rafael Marquez denied South Africa the chance to continue an African trend of upsets in World Cup openers but, after a jittery start, the hosts had their moments.
Everything about the 30-minute ceremony typified the continent. There was nothing of the technological wonder with which Beijing wowed the world two years ago. This was about people (1,581 artistes, dancers, musicians and performers) to whom rhythm and dance come naturally, bright colours and noise.
When the South Africa team emerged from the tunnel - some of them dancing, would you believe it? — the roar made the fly-past of military planes seem like geriatrics struggling with their vuvuzelas.
The calabash was recreated and human streams spread out from it in a symbolic show of taking the message to the world. With footprints over coloured cloth held head high to recreate their map, South Africa paid tribute to its past.
Special mention was made of the African sextet that is part of the 32 finalists through songs - representing Algeria, Khaled sang Didi, pop group Osibisa represented Ghana, charismatic star Femi Kuti did the honours for South Africa — and more dance. Also performing were South African artistes Thandiswa Mazwai, Hip Hop Pantsula (HHP), TKZee and vocalist Timothy Moloi.
R&B singer R Kelly and the Soweto Spiritual Singers then acknowledged the efforts of the 204 countries who were part of the qualifying process with ‘Sign of Victory’. Flags of those countries formed an ellipse around the flags of the qualifiers summing up what the Cup is all about.