Johannesburg — PRESIDENT Mugabe arrived here yesterday afternoon to join other African leaders for the official opening of the historic Fifa 2010 Soccer World Cup at Soccer City Stadium today.
The President — who is accompanied by the First Lady Amai Grace Mugabe, Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi and several senior Government officials — was met at Waterkloof Airport in Pretoria by Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to South Africa, Cde Simon Khaya Moyo, South African government ministers and Zimbabwe embassy officials before leaving for Johannesburg.
Vice President John Landa Nkomo is acting President.
Former South African presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki are expected to be among a host of other leaders from the Southern Africa region and the whole continent at Soccer City Stadium.
Other leaders who will attend the official opening include Mexican President Felipe Calderon and President Lula da Silva of Brazil.
Media reports here say South Africa invited all African leaders to the grand opening.
“South Africa invited every African head of state to the opening to acknowledge our gratitude for their support and to underline the African nature of this event,” Ayande Ntsaluba, the director-general of the department of international relations and co-operation, was quoted as telling reporters in Pretoria.
“There may be about three more who eventually respond to the invitations, but we have 20 confirmations at this point.”
The leaders of Madagascar, Guinea and Niger were not invited since they came to power via coups.
“The African Union has determined that leaders who gained power unconstitutionally should not be accorded the same treatment as heads of state,” Ntsaluba said.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir turned down the invitation, amid reports that he feared arrest since South African President Jacob Zuma last month said the Sudanese leader would be arrested under an international war crimes warrant if he accepted the invitation.
President al-Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court in March 2009 for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the troubled Sudanese province of Darfur, the first sitting leader to be indicted by the global court.
However, Africa has opposed the action on the Sudanese leader.
United States Vice President Joe Biden will also be in South Africa to cheer his country’s soccer team that will be playing England tomorrow.
President Zuma was upbeat about the unifying power of the World Cup.
“The enthusiasm, joy and excitement that has engulfed the entire nation in recent weeks has not been witnessed since President Mandela was released from prison.
“The South African flag has become the most popular item on the shopping list of South Africans, and this augurs well for nation building.
“This explosion of national pride is a priceless benefit of the World Cup tournament.
“It is clear that millions of our people have waited for years and look upon this tournament with hope, pride and a sense of belonging.
“Sport has always played an important role in our historical mission to build a united, non-racial and prosperous South Africa and a better world,” he said.
“South Africans are late believers but once they believe, they are fanatical believers,” said Danny Jordaan, the chief executive of the local organising committee, at a final pre-tournament session with reporters.
South Africa has successfully hosted other international sporting events including the 1995 Rugby World and the International Cricket Council World Cup in 2003.
President Zuma also urged visitors to South Africa “not only to enjoy the games but also to experience the full warmth and hospitality of South Africa and its marvellous landscape”.