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SAfrica Whips Up World Cup Frenzy

Thursday, 10 June 2010 02:39 AM

JOHANNESBURG – South Africa whipped itself into a World Cup frenzy on Wednesday as tens of thousands of fans cheered the national side through Johannesburg and the holders Italy flew in to defend their crown.

Two days before the kick-off, crowds turned the streets of the Sandton business district into a cacophonous sea of yellow and green, honking ear-splitting vuvuzela horns as the team waved at them from an open-top bus.

There were similar scenes throughout Johannesburg, as office workers left their buildings and lined the streets to blow vuvuzelas and wave South African flags, as passing cars tooted their horns.

Some wore clown wigs in national colours, and others had makarapas -- hard hats carved and painted into the shape of footballers and flags.

Schoolchildren were dismissed at midday for a special month-long World Cup holiday, bringing many youngsters onto the sidewalk with their parents for the festivities.

"It means a lot to us," Bafana Bafana midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala told reporters. "We just have to get out there and down onto the field and make the nation and ourselves proud."

The noise from the vuvuzelas, set to become one of the main talking points of the tournament, drowned out all conversation -- including attempts by television journalists to deliver two-way reports to their studio.

Thousands also poured into the streets of Cape Town to answer a call on the radio to blow their vuvuzelas at lunchtime.

"It was a national call to have a vuvuzela moment," said Zanele Ntuli among the crowds outside parliament

"Never in my life did I think this would come to Africa, let alone South Africa."

The sense of anticipation has been heightened by an unexpected upturn in the form of Bafana Bafana, who go into Friday's opening match against Mexico on the back of a 12-match unbeaten run.

"I've come here to encourage you that South Africa is a 100 percent plus behind you," President Jacob Zuma told the squad as he paid a visit to their training base. "The psyche of the country is tip-top."

As the government urged fans to be on their best behaviour for the hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors, South Africans also delighted in the prospect that their icon, Nelson Mandela, would be among the crowds at Friday's opener.

The front-page of The Sowetan proclaimed the event would now be the "Mandela Show" while a headline in The Star read "Deafening Noise Can't Curb Kick-off Fever", as it described final rehearsals for a World Cup concert on Thursday.

Ever since it became the first African nation to win the right to stage the tournament six years ago, South Africa has had to fend off claims that its high crime rate, lack of infrastructure and rudimentary public transport system rendered it an unsuitable choice.

Fears over crime were highlighted when armed robbers broke into a rural lodge where reporters covering Portugal are staying, holding one journalist at gunpoint before making off with cash, camera equipment and passports.

A spokesman for the local organising committee said everything was in place but added that opening-day traffic jams remain a concern.

"We urge the 90,000 spectators who will be coming here to exercise restraint when it comes to using their own cars, because there are buses and there are trains which will drop them right at the door," said Rich Mkhondo.

Nearly all of the teams are now in situ, with Italy one of the last to fly in.

Dozens of police and a smattering of fans were at Johannesburg airport to greet the Azzurri, whose pre-tournament results have done little to suggest they will retain their title.

One of the biggest worries for organisers was whether Mandela, the country's first black leader and hero of the struggle against the whites-only apartheid regime, would be able to make it to the opening ceremony.

Mandela's family had indicated that at 91 and increasingly frail such an appearance would be too much for him. But they announced on Tuesday that he would in fact attend, albeit probably not for the whole match.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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JOHANNESBURG – South Africa whipped itself into a World Cup frenzy on Wednesday as tens of thousands of fans cheered the national side through Johannesburg and the holders Italy flew in to defend their crown.
Thursday, 10 June 2010 02:39 AM
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