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Forget the Economy, the World Cup Is Here

Do you know your Laduma from your Vuvuzela? Your Diski from your Makarapa? And why is everyone in Johannesburg screaming Bafana Bafana at me?

A Vuvuzela
AP
A Vuvuzela

Let me explain these terms to those who are not yet familiar with the South African football slang. Bafana is the colloquial name for the South African football side. Vuvuzela is a trumpet/horn. Diski is a dance. Makarapa is a miner's hat worn to accompany the vuvuzela. And Laduma is a roar when the team scores a goal.

Welcome to the FIFA World Cup 2010, the biggest sporting event in the world. An event which will have a TV audience of over 26 billion worldwide cumulative viewers and one that has led South Africa to a collective national fever pitch, and it hasn't even begun yet.

As before all outside broadcasts, while still in London, I laid my hands on as much copy as possible about the task in hand. Reams of A4 stuffed into my bag covering everything from the fall of Apartheid to Wayne Rooney's hair-trigger temper, from the 50 South African murders per day to the over 30 billion Rand cost of Africa's first World Cup.

All of the above, and plenty more, can be read anywhere but only when you get on the ground in a country or at an event do you get a real feel for the place, no matter how well researched you think you are.

So what have I seen on my first day in Johannesburg? For a start, the scene at the airport on arrival was a kaleidoscope of chaos the like of which I've never seen before. The OR Tambo airport is as first world as any in the West, in fact a distinct improvement on Heathrow T1.

And yet once I drifted into baggage collection and then arrivals I was confronted by masked Mexican fans, in true Nacho Libre style, being photographed with tattooed Millwall fans, by cacophonies of Vuvuzelas, modern takes on traditional African trumpets, and by a United Nations of fans including supporters from Denmark, Paraguay, Algeria and Argentina. For four weeks at least, maybe this country will be a true Rainbow Nation?

As I queued at passport control, one Mexican fan was responding to a USA fan's question as to what he'd be doing first on his first trip to the African continent. "Why, getting drunk of course." Nice to know it's not just an English pastime.

So away from the UN convention at the airport and straight on to Soweto (short for South West Township) but better known as a symbol of poverty and inequality and, in years gone by, the struggle against Apartheid.

To be honest, I felt a tad nervous, especially when one of my on-air colleagues reminded me by text that he had been the victim of an attempted kidnapping there once.

However, in the heart of Africa's largest township Nike has built a Football Training Centre on a par with that used by many English Premiership clubs. We were shown around the state of the art facilities and met Nike CEO Mark Parker.

Yes, Nike has a lot to gain commercially by growing it African brand awareness in such ventures but I couldn't help admire such a facility amid such extreme poverty all around.

The cynic in me saw the publicity push as Nike battles for awareness against FIFA-sponsor Adidas, its arch-rival, and yet the human in me admired the football centre's HIV/Aids testing and counseling role too.

Yes, big business will make a lot of money out of the World Cup but initiatives like this show how much humanitarian good can ride on the coat tails of a successful corporate strategy.

On first blush, a lot of what I read about Johannesburg is true. The rich live in luxury behind high security fencing and the poor live in terror of disease, crime and poverty. The arrival of the World Cup, while not dissolving any of the these extremes, is giving South Africa a chance to show just how far it has come since the end of white rule.

Its enormous challenges will not disappear with a month of football but for now let's celebrate Africa's arrival at the top table of the world's biggest sport.

Isn't it a relief to take a break the global financial crisis, from continually shouting "Sell! Sell! Sell!"? And a joy to be screaming Bafana! Bafana! Laduma! Laduma!" instead?

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