Mandela to miss opening celebration after family death
There is both euphoria and apprehension in South Africa as the World Cup kicks off on Friday amid news that Nelson Mandela will not attend the opening celebrations after his great-granddaughter was killed in a car crash, allegedly by a drunk driver.
The 2010 World Cup kicks off in South Africa on Friday with the home team facing Mexico in Johannesburg’s 90,000-seat Soccer City stadium. In the day’s other match, a jittery France will play Uruguay in Cape Town.
But if the eyes of the world are turned toward South Africa with particular intensity, it is not only out of passion for football. An image of racial reconciliation, the affirmation of an often troubled post-apartheid nation, future investment, and millions of tourist dollars are also at stake in this year’s tournament.
Meanwhile, a tragic shadow was cast over the proceedings on Friday, when news emerged that former South African President Nelson Mandela would not attend the World Cup’s opening celebrations and first match, after his 13-year-old great granddaughter was killed in a car crash leaving a concert ahead of the tournament’s start. Mandela, now a frail 91 years old, has been widely credited with helping South Africa win the World Cup bid in 2004.
Still, African leaders are hoping the logistically daunting event will allow the continent to shed persistent stereotypes of disaster, strife, and failure, and prove its competence and readiness for further development.
And as South Africans of all backgrounds bask in their long-awaited moment in the global spotlight, their enthusiasm for hosting the World Cup has overshadowed doubts about their team’s ability. Once derided as hopeless under-achievers, and, at 83 in the rankings, one of the lowest ranked teams to host the World Cup, South African footballers are enjoying a new status as national heroes. The team has also been buoyed by a streak of 12 victories.
“People are very excited, they’re waving their flags, they’re all anticipating watching the game,” FRANCE 24 correspondent Eva Gilliam reported from Cape Town. “Even the local trade union has asked businesses to close early so everyone can watch the game”.
Security concerns and lagging ticket sales
If South African euphoria seems mostly immune to anxieties about hosting such a massive international event in a nation scarred by a stormy past, there have nevertheless been a handful of reminders.
Aside from the accident involving Mandela’s great granddaughter, a string of other accidents and crimes in recent days have shed light on security challenges in one of the world’s most violent countries outside a war zone.
Three Greek players, eleven tourists, and three Chinese journalists were robbed on Thursday, some of them at gunpoint. On the same day, six people were injured in a crowd crush at Cape Town’s main World Cup fan zone and three British tourists were killed in a car accident.
These safety concerns, along with global economic conditions and the practical difficulties of travelling to and within South Africa, have resulted in lagging ticket sales. According to an Associated Press report, half a million seats (nearly a quarter of the tournament total) are still available; without accelerated sales, organisers are bracing themselves for sections of empty seats at the stadiums, especially for matches featuring less popular teams.
Gilliam noted that indeed “next to all this excitement, there is a bit of apprehension. South Africa really has to pull this off if they want to be seen as the success they hope to be”.
But for the next several hours, at least, South Africans will try to put aside the stresses and distractions that go along with having the World Cup take place at home. The Brazilian manager of the South African team, Carlo Alberto Parreira, explained on Thursday that his team was focusing on football.
“We have a World Cup game,” he said. “We want to make this country proud”.