Ceremony sparkles despite Mandela absence

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The World Cup kicked off today with a breathtaking visual spectacular at the opening ceremony in South Africa.

Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium rang out to the sound of music and cheering as the 19th edition of the Fifa tournament roared into life.

The one notable absentee was the country's former president Nelson Mandela, who pulled out following the death of his 13-year-old great-granddaughter Zenani in a car crash.

Mr Mandela's former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, was taken to hospital to be treated for shock on hearing the news of the car crash.

But his absence did not stop the 1,581 artists enthralling the crowd - at least half of whom missed out on the colourful proceedings by arriving late at the 85,000-capacity venue.

After an aerial display by the South African air force, a group of drummers and dancers performed a Welcome to Africa song that included an introduction to all 10 of the tournament's venues.

The next sequence saw a gigantic beetle show off its football skills with the Jabulani - the official football of the finals - before large pieces of cloth were used to show a map of the continent and then the world.

A smoking calabash, depicting the stadium design, represented another side of Africa, and the colour and splendour drew even more roars from the slowly filling stadium.

Musicians and artists from the other African finalist countries - Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria - also had their chance to perform in a joint sequence.

Multiple Grammy Award-winning R&B star R Kelly then sang the ceremony's showpiece song, Sign Of A Victory, with South Africa's Soweto Spiritual Singers.

The opening concluded with a display of flags from the 176 competing member associations that failed to qualify, surrounding those that did, with voices of children sounding out the names of all the 32 qualifiers and then uniting to form a human version of the official tournament logo.

United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, Mexican president Felipe Calderon, Prince Albert of Monaco and United States vice-president Joe Biden were all expected to attend, while Archbishop Desmond Tutu and president Jacob Zuma were among those spotted.

Locals believe their team, known as Bafana Bafana, can lift the trophy.

Video: Concert kicks off World Cup

The team have never progressed beyond the group stage but they will be cheered on by a nation in the grip of football fever.

Many believe the vuvuzela, the plastic trumpets which make a noise like a herd of charging elephants, will be their secret weapon.

Thousands of travelling England supporters have made their way to South Africa, although many have stayed away because of the high cost of flights and accommodation and fears over safety.

Back home, hundreds of people flocked to Trafalgar Square in London for a day-long event to celebrate the start of the tournament.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson hosted the party, where he was to be joined by South African High Commissioner Dr Zola Skweyiya.

A performance by award-winning South African lyric soprano Pumeza Matshikiza, mass flag-waving and a selection of South African food were also on the bill.

Mr Johnson said: "Throughout the world, anticipation and excitement are reaching fever pitch as the master exponents of the beautiful game come together in thrilling competition.

"So, vuvuzelas at the ready - here's to South Africa and a glorious World Cup."

Nearly four million fans will flock to the pub to watch the match, according to a ComRes poll commissioned by the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA).

The poll predicted a £35 million sales boost from the game with an extra nine million pints of beer sold.

After a highly successful qualifying campaign under manager Fabio Capello there are high hopes the England team could end 44 years of hurt and lift the trophy for the first time since 1966.

But warm-up matches against Mexico and Japan proved less than inspiring and captain Rio Ferdinand will sit out the tournament after sustaining an injury in his first training session in South Africa.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before