Sizzling blastoff for World Cup


Nationwide euphoria following Bafana Bafana's stunning victory over Denmark in a pre-Cup friendly match has set the stage for our biggest party ever when the World Cup gets under way on Friday.

The Sunday Times can today reveal that the day after the massive Fifa concert at Orlando Stadium on June 10, the hour-long opening ceremony at Soccer City in Soweto will feature a 1500-strong cast, and include:

  • US superstar R Kelly and the Soweto Spiritual Singers, who will perform the World Cup anthem: Sign of a Victory;
  • South African artists HHP and TKZee, who will perform Shibobo - despite Benni McCarthy not being "in the area" as the song's original lyrics go - and promise: "a massive party for the world";
  • African stars Khaled, from Algeria, and Osibisa, from Ghana, and Nigeria's Femi Kuti, singing his famous Bang Bang Bang track; and
  • Sama-nominated R&B singer Timothy Moloi, standing in for opera star Siphiwo Ntshebe, who died suddenly last month. Moloi will be singing Nelson Mandela's newly adopted anthem, Hope.

On Friday, the Sunday Times got an exclusive aerial view of the opening ceremony rehearsals when our photographer flew over Nasrec showgrounds near Soweto.

With five days to go, the world's greatest footballers - and many of its greatest musicians - are streaming into the country, as millions of South Africans gear up for the first of a month of block parties and family celebrations on June 11.

As initially sluggish ticket sales surged close to a Fifa record yesterday, local organising committee chief Danny Jordaan told the Sunday Times: "South Africa is really in a celebratory party mode. And the opening ceremony is sure to be the party of all parties to kick-start this historic tournament."

The event will precede the opening match, between Bafana Bafana and Mexico, which about 50 heads of state are expected to attend.

Jordaan said: "It will showcase to a worldwide audience of millions the talent, creativity, technology and welcoming spirit and hospitality of the African continent."

Meanwhile, coaches from the 18 teams that have already arrived praised their hosts, with legendary Argentina coach Diego Maradona saying: "I'm excited to be here, I love South Africa and I'm looking forward to the World Cup."

Co-produced by Lebo M, the opening ceremony will see TKZee stepping up on stage in the first global showcase of kwaito. TKZee member Zwai Bala said: "There cannot be a better honour honestly, to be considered to be part of this global event!"

A tribute will also be paid to Ntshebe, 34, who died of meningitis in his home town of Port Elizabeth on May 26. His replacement, Moloi, said he was "stunned; completely surprised" to be asked this week to sing Hope in Ntshebe's stead. The song includes a passage read by Mandela.

"It's the ultimate honour to perform Hope for Madiba - but it's also bittersweet in view of the tragic loss of this wonderful artist," said Moloi. "As a celebration, my feeling is: South Africa has won already, before the first kickoff."

The ceremony will see a cast of Afro-Brazilian-style capoeira dancers and drummers, ranging in age from 10 to 59. Organisers said the ceremony would encapsulate the cultures and peoples of the African "six-pack" of nations competing in the Cup - South Africa, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Algeria, Ghana and Cameroon.

The Creative Workers Union are threatening to boycott Thursday night's Kick-Off concert at the Orlando Stadium because of the alleged "exclusion" of local artists - despite Fifa increasing the number of local acts for the concert from three to seven.

In apparent reference to this, the minister of arts and culture, Lulu Xingwana, noted that the opening ceremony featured only one artist from outside the continent.

She said: "I believe the opening ceremony is going to be a super celebration of the very best of African arts ... with African-American Grammy winner R Kelly the only artist from outside the continent."

On Friday, months of often bitterly negative headlines in the UK press swung dramatically to the positive, with the Daily Mail praising England's base in Rustenburg, North West, as "putting Wembley to shame", while Sportsmail noted in amazement that: "The medical centre, pool and gym, little more than a pile of rubble when Sportsmail visited the newly built complex in February, are complete."

Meanwhile, in a major piece inThe Telegraph, Afrikaner author and Afro-sceptic Rian Malan publicly retracted his earlier predictions that the event would be a humiliating failure for Africa.

Instead - after witnessing the successful launch of the Gautrain, the new bus system, the refurbished highways, and the "huge success" of the Super 14 final in Soweto - Malan admitted that South Africans were "ready", having "pulled their socks up" to "make fools" of sceptics like himself.

Malan wrote: "Some slip-ups are inevitable, but generally, we seem to be heading towards a 'fat jol'".