What a 48 hours it has been. We’ve gone from the highs of an opening concert that featured some accomplished musicians both local and foreign, woken up to news of a tragedy in the Mandela family which ensured he would miss the celebratory opening ceremony.
And after all that, how can you not feel proud to be an African on this day? Simply impossible.
Let’s start with the concert which I was lucky to catch a bit of live. By the time I got to Orlando Pirates stadium I had missed my favorite Angelique Kidjo and sent her out a tweet to apologize. Listening to her on radio on the way though I pictured an energized crowd soaking up songs like “Agolo” from the indefatigable Beninois songstress. By the time I got to Soweto, I had also just missed Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s speech which friends all over said was powerful.
There was still a buzz from that and the stage and crowd was dripping with color as Juanes rocked the crowd. He even brought out of Black Eyed Peas’ Taboo to hype up Los Mexicanos in the crowd. After that, many of the fans milled about waiting for the next big performer. She came in the name of Alicia and totally took down the house. Luckily, there was no roof over the stadium otherwise it was a goner. She went through three or four of her hits ending with “Empire State of Mind.” It was hard not to sing along and dance. But when she sang a rendition of “Too late for mama,” a Brenda Fassie song with Blk Jks the South Africans in the crowd went berserk.
Blk Jks built on that energy by performing “Mzabalazo” which is a liberation song. The stomping of feet and the raised fists put me in some movie about the apartheid struggle. But these are happier times. The momentum continued to build when local hero Quinton Fortune appeared with former Manchester United striker Andy Cole to introduce K’naan whose “waving flag” song has captured people’s imagination ahead of the world cup. He came out with a Somalian flag and the crowd needed no instructions to wave their own flags. Needless to say, South African flags were in the majority.
The house continued rocking with local kwaito act, Big Nuz. There’s something about the kwaito rhythm that forces you to get up and dance and this was no different. Let’s just hope that they weren’t one of those local acts who are reported not to have been paid for their performances.
Shakira’s hips as you know don’t lie but her performance in the beginning was heavy on sex appeal and light on actual singing. The crowd seemed to be energized by their knowledge of her songs than by the live performance. Until she performed the official world cup song, “Waka Waka” with local acts, it was a halting performance. But the Zangelewa song is familiar to many Africans and it is hard to knock Shakira too much.
But don’t just take it from me. Here’s another account. Danny Jordaan came out with Jerome Valcke and said “We’re not going to sleep because on the 11th of June, the world cup is going to start on African soil.” My night did not end there as I reluctantly drove through the streets of Soweto for a couple of hours. I saw two street parties with at least 50 people at each one. The first one had fireworks to go with the dancing and singing. The second one was a procession through the streets with vuvuzelas in hand and stomping of feet. Clearly, Mr. Jordaan’s memo was well-distributed.
But then I woke up with a worsened flu, the result of my late night perhaps and the news that one of Mandela’s grandkids died in a car accident and it was hard not to pause and put the world cup in perspective. Is this all worth it?
Sepp Blatter’s put paid to any reticence with his speech. And when South African president Jacob Zuma declared “this is an African world cup. The time for Africa has come. It has arrived,” we knew it was on.
Of course you didn’t need any reminders after Osibisa, Femi Kuti and Hugh Masekela had already indicated what time it was on the stage at soccer city. An African-do time!!!
But then the games really began and while we had shown that an African country could organize a world event, we still had some catching up to do on the pitch. Mexico dominated the initial exchanges as South Africa suffered from the weight of expectations. Mexico had a seemingly legitimate goal disallowed. Of course, it was legitimate to those of us who have taken our understanding of the offside rule for granted. In what turned out to be a tale of two halves though South Africa grew stronger and more confident as the game went on and when the shot seen around the world occurred I and a whole continent was ecstatic!!! Tshabalala broke down the left flank and unleashed a rocket of a shot in the 55th minute. Goal. While Mexico came back to deservedly tie the game, the whole day felt like one giant win and even though I was not in the stadium or at a fan park as I wished, it occurred to me that in that moment, I could have been anywhere in the world and I would still have felt on top of it!!!