Johannesburg – President Jacob Zuma officially opened the 29th Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament at the National Stadium in Nasrec, south of Johannesburg, on Saturday.
Zuma lifted a flame after the opening ceremony, which had started on schedule at 4pm with a distinctly African theme, as the heavy downpour subsided.
“I must express deepest appreciation at my personal level and on behalf of our beloved country, at this yet another profound honour that the Confederation of African Football bestowed on South Africa to host this 29th continental tournament,” Zuma said earlier at a welcome lunch in Johannesburg for the heads of states attending the tournament.
“We are humbled by this unwavering trust in our ability as a country to stage this mighty continental soccer showcase successfully.”
The opening ceremony lasted a little over 40 minutes, with members of South Africa's 1996 winning team coming onto the field with the trophy, accompanied by the tournament mascot.
Structures resembling brick walls were assembled on the pitch with the words 'poverty' painted in black and 'HIV/AIDS' painted in red.
The entire soccer field was covered in rainbow coloured material. Masses of children danced on the material, and after joining in the centre of the field, they took apart the structures piece by piece.
The children later returned and gathered up hundreds of giant coloured balls. After displaying them around the field, they assembled in the middle to create a symbol of the South African flag.
The balls were then lifted and dropped to make a wave effect to the cheers of the crowd.
The ceremony concluded with all the flags of the competing nations in the middle of the display, along with the Confederation of African footbal (Caf) logo.
The rain began two hours before the ceremony was due to start but lightened about an hour before the start.
Most of the crowd took shelter behind the stands during the ceremony. The seats were left almost completely empty as supporters waited for the rain to stop.
The majority of fans were dressed in yellow in support of Bafana Bafana, who were set to face Cape Verde Islands in the opening match at 6pm.
A total of 32 games will be played in five host cities – Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Nelspruit and Rustenburg – with 16 teams taking part in the three-week showpiece.
South Africa was appointed as the host nation in August 2011, due to political turmoil in Libya, which initially won the bid.
“Even though we therefore arranged to host it within a relatively short period compared to the previous tournaments, we remain confident and steadfast in our resolve not to let Africa down in delivering this important event,” Zuma said. – Sapa