World Cup Concert: South Africa Pinches Itself

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If you were to sum up the atmosphere at the opening concert to kick off the soccer World Cup in one word, it would be: disbelief. The country has been counting down to the day it hosts the world at its biggest sporting event for years – with a mixture of the kind of excitement you’d expect and a pessimism that it could pull it off. This week, as the world’s best soccer stars – and their fans and thousands of journalists and Joe Biden – actually turned up, South Africa could barely contain its joy, and surprise. The entire nation exploded in a mass of flags and vuvuzelas, the meter-long plastic trumpet that now has every South African city sounding like it is inhabited by herds of elephants. And tonight when a crowd of tens of thousands at Orlando Stadium in Soweto found themselves looking at the Black Eyed Peas, Alicia Keys, John Legend and Shakira – right there, up on stage, in the flesh, in Soweto! – many seemed to find it hard to take it in. As so often in the past, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu found the words to express how his countrymen were feeling. Jigging onto the stage dressed in a South African team shirt, scarf and woolly bobble hat, he asked: “Can you feel it? Can you touch it? It’s unbelievable. It’s unbelievable. I am in a dream. I am in a dream. Wake me up. We are the world.”

The concert itself was remarkable more for its line-up and collaborations – which had the best of the West dueting throughout with the best of Africa – than the performances, though the voices of Alicia Keys and Angelique Kidjo would astonish anyone anywhere, let alone a bunch of chilly concert-goers in Soweto

But the night, and the biggest cheer, belonged to Tutu. He reminded the crowd that Nelson Mandela – “the man to whom we all owe so much” – lived a short drive away in Johannesburg proper. Mandela is also a miracle, of course, but one to which South Africans have become accustomed over the years and are only too ready to recognize. So when Tutu added, “and if we make a loud enough noise, he will hear us,” I swear the explosion split the clouds above Soweto.