Let the games begin


JOHANNESBURG, June 11- Hundreds of dancers filled Soccer City with the sights and sounds of Africa for the World Cup opening ceremony on Friday, representing the six nations on the continent competing in the tournament.
The stadium, the largest in Africa, buzzed with the sound of thousands of vuvuzela trumpets as five jets flew overhead, but the stands were only partially full as many fans battled gridlock traffic to reach the venue.

Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu danced in the stands, wrapped in a yellow and green scarf and beanie hat to support the Bafana Bafana national side in their later match against Mexico.

South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela had been expected to attend, but he cancelled at the last minute following the tragic death of his 13-year-old great granddaughter in a car accident during the night.

But he delivered a videotape message spliced into one of the songs, welcoming the World Cup to South Africa and imploring fans "to overcome all adversaries".

A traditional African praise singer in animal skins opened the 40-minute show, as dancers lined up along the compass points indicating the eight other host cities around South Africa.

A giant dung beetle puppet pushed across the pitch an oversize version of the official World Cup football, as dancers then unfurled stretches of cloth to make a map of Africa, with footprints showing the migration of humankind across the continent.

South Africa’s legendary trumpeter Hugh Masekela and American R-and-B star R Kelly headlined the event that included 1,500 performers showcasing music and dance from the six African countries participating in the tournament.

A baobab tree sculpted out of flags from the six nations sprouted out of centre field, giving a stage to Algerian pop star Khaled and Nigeria star Femi Kuti. The Cameroon national ballet performed as did Ghanaian band Osibisa.

R Kelly was joined by the Soweto Spiritual Singers to perform his hit "Sign of Victory", before the 32 competing teams were announced with cut-outs of their flags spinning on the field.