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Famous South African Street Rocks Ahead of World Cup Kick Off

Vilakazi Street will be the scene of much celebration as the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa unfolds
Vilakazi Street will be the scene of much celebration as the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa unfolds

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Schoolboys, their disheveled uniforms streaked with dust and faces dripping with sweat, boot a football across the road. Young children saunter along the sidewalk, blowing plastic trumpets, the shrill sound piercing the high, thin air. Vehicles flying the flag of South Africa speed past, hooters blaring, drivers' fists punching the air. Drummers pound out a furious rhythm on their instruments, accompanying a choir that sings "Ke nako, Ke nako" ("it is here") in a local Sotho dialect.

Hordes of foreign football fans from all corners of the globe - from Argentina to Algeria, from Greece to Ghana - look on, and eagerly snap photographs of the unfolding scenes.

With Africa's first football World Cup set to begin, there's a carnival atmosphere in Vilakazi Street. This is South Africa's most famous road, situated in Orlando West in the middle of the country's biggest township, Soweto. Vilakazi Street is the only street in the world to have been home to two former Nobel Peace Prize winners. Both former South Africa president Nelson Mandela and human rights activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu once sheltered here, trying to escape the apartheid police.



Now, with just hours to go before hosts South Africa meet Mexico in the tournament's opening game at nearby Soccer City stadium, Vilakazi Street is packed with football supporters ... And a shadow of its former violent character.

"It's hard to believe that just more than 20 years ago this place was on fire, with apartheid soldiers shooting our people, and us people fighting back with stones and the petrol bombs!" exclaims Orlando West resident Zacharia Moloi. He continues, "Now here we are, hosting the World Cup, with the whole world happy to be in Vilakazi Street! There's a party here now! Life is truly a miracle!"

Bafana are stars

Moloi laughs when asked what he's doing roaming Vilakazi Street in the middle of the day when he should be at work, at a panel beating company across town. "I am here to see all the foreigners like they are here to see me; the relationship is of mutual benefit!" he cackles.

Turning to the World Cup's first game, Moloi says "emotion" will allow South Africa to beat Mexico. "Bafana Bafana [a nickname for the South Africa team] are going to win this game, convincingly - maybe by three goals," he states.

Moloi says South Africa "cannot fail" to win the opening match because "millions of people at home and around the world" are behind Bafana Bafana.

In a side street nearby, 9-year-old Bonginkosi Dlamini is playing amongst rubble remaining from recent renovations in Vilakazi Street. He has no doubt that his beloved South African soccer squad will win the World Cup. "Because they are clever," he smirks.

Dlamini's friend, Thebe Thafeng, says Bafana will first "deal" with Mexico, and then go on to even bigger things. "Ah, it will be nice! We are going to take the World Cup because [South Africa] are skillful ... They're stars - like [midfielder] Simphiwe Tshabalala!"

Mexicans "for breakfast"

As some English football fans cheer from a restaurant balcony overlooking Vilakazi street, Sakhile Nkomo juggles a football theatrically. "We want to prove to everybody that Africa is ready for [World Cup] 2010. It's time. It's here. Feel it," he says.

The young man is especially looking forward to seeing international soccer superstars "in real life - not just on TV. I want to see [Brazilian midfielder] Kaka! I will do anything to see Kaka," Nkomo tells VOA.

He says Bafana's recent friendly results - beating Colombia and Denmark, teams ranked far higher than it - is "total proof" that South Africa's destined to do well in the football extravaganza.

"There will be no favors. We are going to play our normal football and we are going to beat Mexico 2 - 1," Nkomo emphasizes. "After we beat Mexico, we will beat Uruguay and then maybe draw with France [in the group stages]. We will make quarter finals, at least. We will not allow all these world teams to play on our soil, and then we are not there in the later tournament stages ourselves."

Outside the gate of Phefeni Senior Secondary School half way down Vilakazi Street, Hegliece Mazibuko says South Africa's going to "thrash [those Mexicans]; we are going to lash them!" Then, the school caretaker laughs and adds, "Mexico is our breakfast!"

Mazibuko dismisses every neutral's favorite to take the trophy, Brazil, as the most dangerous threat to South Africa. "Brazil is playing the tricky soccer like us but we [unlike the Brazilians] don't jump on top of the ball! We touch that ball! We marinate it!"

He says Bafana are going to "stroke that ball around like it is a baby's bottom! Finesse will win us this World Cup! And when we need power, we also have it, in the form or our deadly quick striker, Katlego Mphela."

Mazibuko is adamant, "The World Cup will remain here in South Africa."

"It's impossible"

But, Zacharia Moloi, as confident as he is of South Africa beating Mexico, maintains that Bafana still aren't good enough to win the tournament.

"We are facing very good teams. Last time around, we didn't even qualify for the African Nations Cup; our domestic teams are failing in the African Champions League; our players don't play in the world's best leagues," Moloi laments.

"Maybe, by some miracle South Africa will make it to the semifinals - but no further," he said. "It's impossible!" Moloi scoffs, when a passerby interjects to suggest that Bafana could lift football's most coveted prize.

"It's between Brazil and Spain to lift the World Cup," he asserts.

But for many South Africans, their country has already triumphed - even if Bafana Bafana fails at the tournament's first hurdle. In less than two decades, the country has risen from being a pariah state, to hosting what could well turn out to be the biggest sporting spectacle ever witnessed.

And South Africans of all generations haven't forgotten their homeland's bitter history … As well as its stark present.

"When I moan that I have no ticket for a World Cup game, my mom reminds me that I have food to eat, while millions of kids in South Africa do not," Nkomo whispers.

"It's only football; it's only a game," he mutters unconvincingly, tossing the ball once more before his scuffed school shoes, and disappearing into the hazy distance.

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