Nelson Mandela, the global icon of peace who helped secure the first African World Cup, said Friday that he hoped the 2010 tournament would leave long-term benefits to South Africa.
“We feel privileged and humbled that South Africa that has been given the singular honor of being the African host country,” Mandela said in a video message to a draw ceremony that mixed glamour and sport with the sights and sounds of Africa.
Article continues below ...
“We must strive for excellence in our hosting of the World Cup while at the same time ensuring that the event leaves a lasting benefit to all our people.”
The 91-year-old Mandela makes few public appearances.
About 3,000 people attended Friday’s event at the Cape Town International Convention Center, ending weeks of waiting by fans to find out who their teams will face in the group stage of the World Cup, which starts June 11 and ends July 11.
Sporting heroes such as England midfielder David Beckham mixed with political heroes like Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
South Africa’s own Oscar winning actress Charlize Theron who co-hosted the event with FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke added a touch of glamour in a stunning full-length magenta evening dress.
“The World Cup will not only bring the best players in the world. It will also bring recognition to Africa because Africa has waited so long to organize a World Cup,” FIFA President Sepp Blatter said at the start of the ceremony.
The 90-minute show kicked off with acclaimed local musician Johnny Clegg known to many as “The White Zulu” who sang his famous “Scatterlings of Africa,” to the backdrop of African landmarks such as the pyramids of Egypt.
The show was beamed live to about 200 million television viewers in more than 200 territories. Other entertainment was provided by Beninese diva Angelique Kidjo and the Grammy award-winners Soweto Gospel Choir.
It was set on a colorful stage and included videos of the history of the World Cup as well as a humorous clip which made it look like lions, monkeys and giraffes were playing football.
South Africa was awarded the World Cup in 2004 but the initial euphoria has been dampened by concerns over rising stadium construction costs, building delays, rampant crime and lack of transportation.
President Jacob Zuma said the country was ready to host one of the best World Cups ever.
“We believe the world is going to be surprised,” he said during the ceremony.” Because this cup that has come to Africa at the end of the tournament will remain here in Africa.”
The seaside city of Cape Town on the southern most tip of Africa made an idyllic backdrop to what is widely seen as the kick off the World Cup with its vineyards, white beaches and iconic Table Mountain.
Outside the International Convention Center, guests posed against a mock-up of the flat-topped landmark as a carnival atmosphere prevailed in the city.
Streets were decked with banners and giant footballs while fans gathered in the city center, blowing the plastic trumpets known as vuvuzelas that have become a trademark of South African football.
About 20,000 people attended a free concert in Long Street, a trendy strip of bars and shops, that had been turned into country’s first fan park. Fans wore bright football jerseys and yellow hats and waved South African flag. Others watched from the balconies that overlook the street while street performers and fire eaters entertained the crowds.
“The World Cup will bring a spirit of togetherness for every race, because I see every race here,” said Namhla Ciliwe, 32.
Hosting the World Cup is widely seen as a coming of age for South Africa and the dramatic embrace of race after the apartheid era was a part of Friday’s event.
Among the guests at Friday’s event were former president F.W. de Klerk who won the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela in 1993 for ending white minority rule
Makhaya Ntini, the first black player in South Africa’s national cricket team assisted with the draw as did Matthew Booth, the only white player on the national football team during the Confederations Cup.
South Africa is also hoping to use the event to show the progress made since the end of apartheid in 1994. Billions of rands have been poured into the construction of stadium and new roads to overcome infrastructure and transport problems.
The country is also hoping for a tourism boom with some 500,000 tourists expected to descend upon South Africa and spend about $850 million during the monthlong tournament.
“The World Cup will open a lot of doors for people and will give South Africa a good name, that its not just the stereotype of a poor African country,” said Anna Springer, 22, an American volunteer enjoying the party at the fan park.
Associated Press Courtney Brooks contributed to this report.