South African tribal chiefs and healers have slaughtered a cow outside Soccer City, the biggest stadium at the World Cup, as part of rituals to appease the spirits of ancestors and welcome fans.
Phepsile Maseko, national coordinator for the Traditional Healers' Organisation, said today the ceremony was intended to cleanse the air and ensure spirits were not frightened by the many languages that would be spoken during the month-long tournament.
"Firstly, we bless the stadium as a symbol of welcome to the nations that are coming," she said. "We burnt incense and other medicines and we slaughtered a cow near the stadium. The cow symbolises strength...it is a unifying cow.
"We don't want our spirits to be scared of all the different languages."
South Africa is the first African country to host soccer's showpiece event, starting on June 11, and expects some 300,000 foreign visitors. The 94,000-seat Soccer City will stage the opening and final matches of the tournament.
Animal slaughter is a ritual among local tribal groups to call on ancestors to bless an occasion. Some 2,000 people attended Tuesday's ceremony, many wearing traditional animal skins.
Maseko said the ceremony was meant to cover all the World Cup's 10 stadiums, including Johannesburg's second stadium Ellis Park, where 43 fans died in a stampede at a local derby in 2001, the country's worst soccer disaster.
"The spirits of those people are hanging over all of the stadiums. We need to cleanse those spirits," she said.