Hosting FIFA World Cup Soccer in South Africa was long a dream of Nelson Mandela and the day is finally here. It’s only 1994 — a mere 16 years ago that South Africa experienced its first full, free election in which Mandela was elected president. And look at them now. When I see all those excited and happy faces of the people of South Africa, I have to admit — my heart swells with pride and joy in their peaceful achievements. It’s exciting to live in this historic time of breakthroughs, isn’t it? The anniversary of that election, April 27, is now a public holiday called Freedom Day. I remember that day well and as a kid, wore a bracelet everyday with the name of a South African political prisoner on it until he was freed. Well, actually it turned my wrist green so it lived on my dresser for awhile, where I saw it everyday …

Above, Shakira sings the FIFA anthem with some African rhythms and dancers. At first, I thought it was odd that they hadn’t chosen someone of African descent to sing the official song. But you know what — adding Shakira emphasizes the international appeal of the South African spirit and the song is heavily African-influenced. So I’m cool with it. Seeing a jubilant Desmond Tutu address the crowd at the concert (held in a stadium in Soweto!) and watching African-American artists like Black Eyed Peas and Alicia Keys perform was super-cool. I’m a little sad that no one from the U.S. government seemed to be in attendance — major missed opportunity. I was also sad that Mandela’s great granddaughter died, preventing him from attending some of the festivities. Watch Desmond Tutu welcome the world at the inaugural concert in multiple languages below:

South Africa is not a paradise by any means and the country is still overcoming the economic and political legacy of apartheid. But they’ve come a long way in a short time — including successfully playing host to what’s basically for the rest of the world is like the Super Bowl times 10. After all the World Cup is only held every 4 years. FIFA World Cup is not only showing the world a strong, united South Africa but is also set to pour money in their economy (from

It has been estimated that the 2010 Fifa World Cup will sustain an estimated 695 000 jobs and have a gross impact of R93-billion on South Africa’s economy. A projected 373 000 foreign tourists will visit South Africa during the World Cup, each spending an estimated R30 – 200 on average per trip.

However, the indirect spin-offs from improved perceptions abroad could have an even greater, longer-lasting impact, not only on South Africa and its development but on the continent as a whole. A successful World Cup will help change the perceptions that a large number of foreign investors hold of Africa.

That translates from rand to about $12bil USD with visitors spending each as much as $25 while there (that seems like a low amount).That’s badly needed given the rough shape of the global economy.

This year, the USA team is actually pretty good which is adding more interest here. The USA has had a strong relationship with South Africa given the support, especially among African-Americans both during and after apartheid of the struggle for freedom. A Nielsen global poll found that Brazil is favored around the world to win but 9% of global respondents had good things to say about USA’s chances. It would be cool if we win or at least get to the semi-finals.

The Atlanta Post has a feature with photos of the highest paid black soccer stars at the World Cup that’s worth checking out. For the record, I like the idea of the vuvuzela horns buzzing during every game than the reality. Gives me a bit of a headache! Have you been following World Cup soccer? What do you think?

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