June 14th, 2010
10:26 AM ET

The impossibility of the World Cup

Greenpoint Stadium in Cape Town. Few South Africans dared dream 20 years ago that they might host the World Cup.  AFP/Getty
Greenpoint Stadium in Cape Town. Few South Africans dared dream 20 years ago that they might host the World Cup. AFP/Getty

CNN’s David McKenzie will spend the entire month of the World Cup traveling around South Africa in a Winnebago and taking the pulse of the host country, the first nation on the continent to stage sport’s most illustrious occasion.

Cape Town, South Africa - Chief Petty Officer Dudley Malgas’ job is to tell the time - and he does it using the world’s oldest muzzle-loading cannon still firing. Every working day, the South African navy has fired the noonday gun at exactly midday over Cape Town as it has done for more than 200 years. It is so accurate that people still set their watches by it.

South Africa’s moment as it hosts the first African World Cup isn’t lost on this timekeeper.

“Cape Town is alive,” he says as he stands on the slopes of Signal Hill looking out over the wide vista of Cape Town spread out in front of him, “by hosting the World Cup 2010.”

The view overlooks the expanse of Table Bay, gleaming in the bright winter sun. A dark green smudge in the middle of the bay is Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent more than 20 years in prison. On the shore is the gleaming new Greenpoint Stadium which will host a number of important games in the World Cup, including one of the semi-finals.

The importance of South Africa’s transition from being a pariah nation under apartheid to now holding the world’s largest sporting event has not been lost on Malgas.

“I am very proud of it to be part of it, firing the gun, seeing the stadium everyday and yes our whole people in Cape Town also have got the hype and the buzz of the world cup in them,” he says.

In the streets of the city below fans gather daily at the Greenpoint Stadium or at the Fan Park in front of Cape Town’s City Hall to watch the games either live or on a super wide television screen.

Like all over South Africa, the fans are dressed in bright colors, have their faces painted and constantly blow the plastic horns known as vuvuzelas. The cheerful noise echoes across the city as the bars restaurants are filled with people celebrating what has become known as “the beautiful game.”

In the center of it all is the masterpiece of Victorian architecture that is the Cape Town City Hall, once a symbol of white colonial and apartheid power. In February 1990, on his first day of freedom, Nelson Mandela stood on its wrought iron balcony and addressed the massed crowds gathered in front of it.

The threat that civil war might remove white minority domination was real then. But it never happened, and South Africa managed a relatively peaceful transition to the non-racial democracy it enjoys today.

“This is our country,” one woman with the South African flag painted on her face says as she hurries for the fan park with her vuvuzela in hand. The emotion of it all seems to overcome her. “And it’s happening here,” she adds. She smiles broadly, her eyes become moist and she can say no more.

Her simple statement sums up the deep feelings most South Africans, black and white, share about this World Cup: twenty years ago it would never have seemed possible to many of them.

soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Varun

    Wow, the stadia and the background look fantastic.

    June 14, 2010 at 11:50 am | Reply
  2. Mxolisi

    Today I am once again proud to be an African as the former states president Thabo Mbeki puts it. We began this journey many years ago, and many people especially the Afro-pessimists , have been saying that all the bad things about South Africa in particualar and Africa in general. So far none of the negative things they've told the world have materialized, this is just an indication to the whole world that Africa is ready to claim its place in the global economy. Mayibuye iAfrica!

    June 23, 2010 at 8:10 pm | Reply
  3. Refilwe

    I have always been proudly South African, but today I am even more so. We have hosted the World Cup successfully and the closing ceremony was just a cherry top. I couldn't get the final match tickets and I only saw it on TV.

    The sceptics are now eating humble pie. South Africa has done it for the continent of Africa and we are now a nation that is now on the world map.

    THANK YOU SOUTH AFRICA, WE DID IT AND NOW WE STAND TALL AND PROUD.

    July 12, 2010 at 7:49 am | Reply

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