Johannesburg: South Africa begins its long farewell to the World Cup with a celebration parade on Friday through the streets of Soweto, two days ahead of the final clash between the Netherlands and Spain.
The three-kilometre procession of brightly coloured floats is another expression of the “new” South Africa that the country has projected during the four-week tournament.
Beginning at a modern shopping mall and ending in a plaza
flanked by a posh hotel, the parade’s floats tell the history
of the township that was a hotbed of resistance to the
white-minority apartheid regime.
The procession “will celebrate the past, present and
future of Soweto and at the same time will encompass South
Africa’s historical legacy,” said organiser Mandla Hlatshwayo.
The showpiece Soccer City stadium, venue for Sunday’s
final, lies between Soweto and downtown Johannesburg,
highlighting the city’s steady transformation 16 years after
the first all-race elections.
Major hotel chains reported that they were fully booked
throughout Gauteng, the province that includes Johannesburg
and the nearby capital Pretoria.
FIFA says tickets to the match are sold out, while global
television audience is expected to reach 500 million viewers.
Colombian pop star Shakira will headline closing ceremony
ahead of the match, where 15 heads of state are expected to
attend -- most controversially Zimbabwe’s President Robert
Mugabe, who is the target of a European and US travel ban.
South Africa’s biggest Hollywood star Charlize Theron has
reportedly arrived home for final, along with Morgan Freeman,
who played Nelson Mandela in last year’s film “Invictus”.
Airport officials warned VIPs that they would maintain
stricter policies for private jets ahead of the final, after a
logjam in landing spots caused delays for six commercial
aircraft, making some fans miss Spain’s semi-final victory
Transport authorities were warning fans to make plans to
arrive early for the game, preferably on public transport,
with commuter trains offering free rides to ticket holders.
FIFA says overall attendance at all World Cup matches has
topped three million, only the third tournament to do so,
partly because of the enormous stadiums that South Africa
built for the games.
“Africa can be proud, South Africa even more so and
African football can also be proud,” FIFA president Sepp
Blatter told a news conference. “We are almost at the end, but
I am a satisfied president.”
South Africa has also overcome fears about crime during
the tournament. The country has a staggering crime rate, with
an average 50 murders a day, but only a handful of violent
crimes have been linked to the World Cup.