Afcon kicks off in style
Vuvuzelas blare as the crowd’s expectancy is palpable despite the wet weather
Vuvuzelas once again ushered in the kickoff of another illustrious tournament as their blaring sound engulfed the gigantic arena in Johannesburg yesterday.
Sporting opening ceremonies are normally marked by fireworks and glitz, but none of that characterised the Africa Cup of Nations curtain-raiser.
Produced by Hlubi Kwebulana and choreographed by Somizi “Madam Gigi” Mhlongo, the 40-minute event told Africa’s challenges through various themes, which mostly highlighted the continent’s plights – famine, illiteracy, poverty, the HIV/Aids scourge and corruption.
However, Mzansi was not denied a chance to showcase its diverse cultures through the performers’ attire, which reflected the traditions of the Ndebele, Venda and Zulu people, among others.
The production, directed by Dean McKain, was not on the scale of Danny Boyle’s Olympic Games opener or as epic as the display that lifted the curtain at the 2010 Fifa World Cup, but it had a touch that brought the rain-soaked crowd to its feet when the legendary Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse took the stage and belted out his 1980s classic Shikisha.
The wet weather did not only deprive the Calabash of a decent attendance at the time of the opening act, but it also eliminated Malian vocalist Oumou Sangaré from the line-up as she broke her leg on the eve of the show.
The Johannesburg metro police deserve a pat on the back for its part in ensuring that the Nasrec precinct was clear of the traffic chaos that is normally the order of the day at other big events locally, particularly in the vicinity of the stadium.
But the performance was overshadowed by some of the security officials, who were
forced to direct proceedings from the inside as there was a bit of chaos.
This was exacerbated by the fact that some security personnel were only employed on the day.
The dermarcation also meant local vendors could only sell from a distance, most of them wearing bright yellow bibs to signal their accreditation at the event.
The downpour is likely the reason yesterday’s attendance belied the announcement earlier in the week that the opening event was sold out.
Most fans could not abide the instruction of not being allowed to bring umbrellas into the venue.
But the brave, which was a mixture of fans from other African countries and included those whose teams were in action yesterday, were rewarded.
The upper tier of the terraces hosted a number of dignitaries, including President Jacob Zuma, Confederation of African Football president Issa Hayatou, Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula and Paralympic icon Oscar “Blade Runner” Pistorius.
Given that South Africa agreed to host the event in the place of Libya, the opening did not reflect any of the controversy that accompanied the rushed
build-up to the 16-nation tournament.
Local organising committee chief executive Mvuzo Mbebe was seen smiling from ear to ear as he was flanked by Valcke and other VIP members.
As the team carrying the hopes of the country in the competition, Bafana Bafana were well received when they stepped onto the pitch, and they received a warm handshake from the president.
They will receive about R1.2 million each if they reach the final on February 10.