'It has united the Rainbow Nation. We have all gathered together'

From Table Mountain to Soweto yesterday, the pulsating chants of traditional songs and the blasting of plastic horns sounded the start of the first World Cup to be held on African soil.

Several people were hurt in a crush at the start of a live broadcast of the tournament's opening game at a viewing site for fans in Johannesburg, witnesses said, but the mood at dozens of fan parks across the country was joyful.

"It has united the nation... the Rainbow Nation has gathered together," said 36-year-old teacher Disebo as she joined in the chorus in the usually quiet city of Bloemfontein, which lies in the country's Afrikaner heartland.

As tens of thousands of fans with tickets descended on the showpiece Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg for the opening match, many more were getting into the party mood in their home cities. Massive television screens ensured that ordinary South Africans could watch Bafana Bafana take on Mexico in the opening game.

"There's no place to be in the world except South Africa. The vibe is in Johannesburg," said Eddie van Rensburg, 28, at a fan park in the Melrose Arch office development just outside the city. At another site in a downtown square, three people were hurt as fans broke through a security fence to catch a glimpse of the kick-off. In Johannesburg alone, about a dozen fan parks and viewing sites have been set up, able to cater for some 100,000 supporters.

South Africans hope the World Cup marks a new chapter for a country troubled by crime, Aids and racial division 16 years after the end of apartheid. "It's incredible that 20 years ago South Africa wasn't even allowed to compete in international sport and now the whole world is focused on us," said Claire Davidson, a 26-year-old conference organiser in Cape Town.

As kick-off neared, fans queued outside the fan parks in their thousands. "I couldn't sleep last night because of the excitement," said Tiisetso Mohapi, a 25-year-old businessman at a fan park in the central square of Bloemfontein.

At a nearby bar, black and white fans mingled in a joyous mood. "It's the nation coming together, black and white," said Lluwellin-lee Peyper, 26. "We want to show the world what South Africa is really like."

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