TODAY the global spotlight will be on South Africa as the Fifa World Cup, the first ever on the continent, kicks off at the 95 000-seater Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg with hosts Bafana Bafana taking on Mexico in a match which promises to be a historic cutthroat encounter.
The 94 700-seater (to be exact) Soccer City stadium will be an electric sea of green and gold/yellow as “Bafanatics” jump and cheer their team to the rafters. There will be soccer fans, celebrities and powerful figures in politics and business to witness the African spectacle.
As the four-week, 32-team tournament opens today with Bafana Bafana — a longshot to bookmakers but passionately supported by locals — taking on Mexico, football fans will be in for a treat until July 11 when the curtain comes down on the tournament.
But the opening match and indeed the World Cup itself will be more than football. The event will give Africa, South Africa in particular, an unprecedented chance to showcase its culture, beauty and opportunities like never before. Perceptions, stereotypes and attitudes will be changed or reinforced in the process.
Of course there is always the downside to this, dangers of crime, prostitutes flooding South Africa and the poor in shanties not realising much benefit from the event.
But so far South Africa — and by extension Africa — is proving sceptics wrong. The tournament is bringing the best out of Africans in their collective diversity.
South Africans as hosts are leading the way. Other Africans have been very helpful in the build-up to the event. They supported the tournament all the way and helped to market it in manner which showed that with organisation and collective will the continent can do much better.
Overall South Africans, assisted by other Africans and the international community, have been impressive. They worked hard to build world-class infrastructure — stadia, airports, roads and hotels — to make the event an African success.
The people of Mzansi, “Bafanatics” in particular, were also not disappointing in rallying behind their team.
In colourful scenes never seen before in South Africa, vuvuzelas across the country blew in unison as the clock struck 12 noon on Wednesday in a mass display of support for Bafana Bafana. The country just went bananas! It was incredible and reminiscent of scenes which characterised the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990.
Tens of thousands of people poured on to the streets of Johannesburg to greet Bafana’s appearance on an open-top bus with an ear-splitting cacophony of cheers and blasts on vuvuzela horns. It was a terrific show of passion and gameness by South Africans to receive guests and embrace the spectacular event.
Soccer’s stars and their supporters from around the world have converged on South Africa and the country — with all its flaws and all its wonders — has seized the global spotlight. Let the games begin and soccer fans enjoy the beautiful sport in peace and harmony.
Football being what it is you never know which teams are going to do well in this tournament unless you are clairvoyant. Some of us would love African countries to go all the way but realistically speaking my last four teams, provided they don’t meet along the way, are Brazil, Spain, Argentina and England. I’m going with Brazil, but charity begins at home and I say Viva Bafana Bafana, siyashosholoza! (pushing forward powerfully and fast). Ayesaba amagwala! (The cowards are afraid.)
By Dumisani Muleya