As South Africa’s flagship Soccer City stadium seethed in a mass of yellow and brightly coloured flags, the hum of tens of thousands of vuvuzelas was suddenly overcome as Gripen Fighter jets burst overhead.
As the smoke cleared, five silver falcons, their tails emblazed with the South African flag, sent the crowd’s excitement levels sky rocketing. The moment a nation has been counting down towards for more than six years had arrived.
“Fellow Africans, today we rewrite history. Because we have brought the World Cup to our soil,” cried out Zolani Mkhiva, the ‘Poet of Africa’. Mkhiva is the youngest practitioner of one of the oldest oral traditions in Africa, ‘kubonga’ (praise singing).
Nine drummers from nine different directions converged in a ring around the praise singer. The pitch became awash with colour as 270 women in brightly coloured blankets formed lines behind the drummers. The lines pointed in the direction of the nine other stadiums in nine host cities where the story of the 2010 FIFA World Cup will emerge over the coming month.
In total more than 1500 South African artists, dancers, musicians and performers between the ages of six and sixty welcomed the World to Africa – the Africa of hope, colour, energy and boundless potential. They sang and danced to songs ranging from uQongothwane, made famous by the late Miriam Makeba, to Didi sang by North Africa’s Khaled whose song paid tribute to all six African teams, the most ever to be represented at a FIFA World Cup.
Johannesburg awoke to a grey and cold day, but as a massive patchwork quilt of the African continent was revealed to the world, there was no longer a cloud in the sky. The African sun poured into the ‘calabash’ warmly welcoming a watching world back to the cradle of civilisation.
Multiple Grammy Award winner, R Kelly and the Soweto Spiritual Singers left the audience elated in the ceremony’s moving showpiece song ‘Sign of Victory’ which recognised all 208 original member associations that competed for a place in the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the 32 nations that were ultimately successful.
The ceremony ended, the protective sheet was removed, and the sounds of the vuvuzela rose again as South Africa rejoiced. With the lines of the pitch revealed – all set for the opening clash between Mexico and South Africa – South Africans and hundreds of millions of viewers in 215 countries were left ready to experience the football, what everyone has been waiting for.