South Africa's stadiums - and beyond

Back in 2004, when FIFA president Joseph Blatter opened the envelope in Zurich and announced that South Africa had won the bid to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, his words were barely audible above the roaring crowd, and a collective cheer rose above South Africa. Sitting next to Blatter, Nelson Mandela couldn’t hold back the tears as he raised the World Cup trophy and said “I feel like a young man of 15”. Since then South Africa has been in the throes of organizing the biggest sporting event on earth and the hosts cities are finalising their preparations for the tournament, which will take place from June 11th to July 11th. 2010 is the 19th FIFA World Cup and the first to be played on African soil. The final 32 teams will play 64 matches at 10 stadiums in 9 host cities. South Africa’s team Bafana Bafana (‘the boys’) automatically qualify, and in total Africa will have six teams competing.  With over 2000 African players currently playing professional football in Europe, and over 40 of these in the English Premier League there could certainly be a few chants of "Football's Coming Home" during the tournament. The expectation upon the players of the host nation is immense. In South Africa, everywhere you look you see the national team's colours - in the queues at the bus stops, on motorway billboards and in every other TV advert. The pride and the determination to do your country proud does more than just put a spring in the step of the most prolific striker; it could lift a whole team.

So what will be my memorable image of the FIFA World Cup 2010™? The Diski dance is a collection of dance moves (which I am aiming to have perfected by June 11th) replicating a style of play that will become all too familiar by the end of the tournament. Even if South Africa doesn't progress as far as their supporters would like, I'm sure the dance will continue in the bars and streets of every host city, long after the final whistle of the final game has been blown. The Vuvuzelas, the metre long horns, that when blown sound like a trumpeting elephant, are already on the lips or hips of anyone who enters the country. They are unique to and synonymous with African football and will most certainly be the loudest lasting impression of the FIFA 2010 World Cup ™.

There are ten new and refurbished stadiums; these are Soccer City (the tournament’s principle stadium which will hold the opening and closing ceremonies and the final) and Ellis Park in Johannesburg; Moses Mabidha Stadium in Durban; Cape Town Stadium in Cape Town; Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Tshwane (formerly Pretoria); Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Nelson Mandela Bay (formerly Port Elizabeth); Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein;  Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane;  Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit; and the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg.

However the stadium destinations offer much more for visitors than just football. Loud, brash and rich, Johannesburg has long been the lifeblood of South Africa since its sudden birth in 1886 and it has dominated the country. Here visitors can enjoy some of South Africa’s finest cutting-edge museums, including the much-celebrated Apartheid Museum, boutique hotels, sophisticated nightlife and probably the best shopping on the African continent. The sprawling conurbation of Durban is Africa’s largest port and it boasts wide beaches, an extensive beachfront and a steamy tropical climate. The city also has one of the country’s most interesting and vibrant cultural mixes – it is home to substantial Zulu and South Africa’s largest Indian population. It’s also a springboard to numerous game reserves in KwaZulu Natal, the beautiful Drakensberg Mountains, some undisturbed wilderness areas on the pristine coastline, and is an easy drive to the battlefields region featuring the fascinating history of the Zulu and Boer Wars.

Cape Town, dominated by Table Mountain and surrounded by the wild Atlantic, has one of the most beautiful city backdrops in the world and with its numerous attractions, is easily South Africa’s top holiday destinations. Despite being a considerable urban hub, its surroundings are surprisingly untamed, characterized by a mountainous spine stretching between two seaboards and edged by rugged coast and dramatic beaches. Beyond, in the beautiful Winelands region, the old towns of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl nestle in a range of low mountains and scenic valleys covered by the vineyards of historic wine estates, which have been cultivating grapes for some 300 years. Cape Town is a springboard to visit the Garden Route, a stretch of coast heralded as one of South Africa’s highlights. The publicity it receives has made it hugely popular and few visitors to Cape Town miss it. The area is undeniably beautiful: a 200-km stretch of rugged coast backed by mountains, with long stretches of sand, nature reserves, leafy forests and tourist-friendly seaside towns. The Garden Route is coming into its own as an adventure destination and there are numerous activities on offer from bungee jumping to mountain biking. Cape Town is one of the few places in the world can offer mountain hiking, lazing on a beach, tasting world-class wines and drinking beer in a township shebeen (pub) all in one day. Put simply, it is a city worth crossing the world for.

Tshwane is an orderly city with wide streets lined with flowering jacaranda trees and is within easy reach of the attractions of Gauteng Province including an area which has been dubbed the Cradle of Mankind because of the thousands of humanoid fossils found in the area, with museums and scenic drives. Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth) is a major port and the biggest coastal city between Cape Town and Durban. The centre of town, is an attractive grid of Victorian houses and green spaces, but the main tourist area is along the long beaches of Algoa Bay, which is celebrated for its warm water and long hours of sunshine. The city’s other great draw is its proximity to a number of game reserves. The most popular is the Addo Elephant National Park, famed for its easily spotted great herds, but the Eastern Cape has a clutch of private reserves too, which offer the opportunity to see the Big Five. Nelspruit serves as a convenient springboard to the best of Mpumalanga’s tourist attractions. The park gates of the world-renowned Kruger National Park are just a short drive away, where there are public rest camps and well maintained roads for game viewing, as well as the private concessions to the west of the park where an all-inclusive safari experience in a luxury camp can be experienced. Overlooking Kruger is the much celebrated Panaroma Route that follows an escarpment of the Eastern Drakensberg Mountains where there are numerous quaint towns surrounded by waterfalls and viewpoints over the spectacular Blyde River Canyon; a dramatic gorge looking over the flat Lowveld to the east.

Bloemfontein features some fine sandstone architecture dating from the late 19th century, and is within striking distance of the Kimberley Mine Museum and Big Hole; South Africa’s fortunes were built on the diamonds found at Kimberley and the Big Hole is the largest hand-dug hole on earth. Formerly known as Pietersburg, Polokwane, offers alternative routes to Kruger to the east, including some top class private game reserves, and the day’s drive to the park through the beautiful flower and orchard-filled Magoebaskloof Mountains is quite beautiful. Rustenburg itself is just a small town, and beyond, the Royal Bafokeng Stadium is referred to by South Africans as the ‘Stadium in the Village’, but it is in easy reach of Johannesburg and Tshwane. The region features the extravagant attractions of Sun City with its championship golf courses, man-made forests, opulent hotels, wave parks and casinos, and the renowned Pilanesberg Game Reserve, which is home to the Big Five.

is author of the full-colour guide to Cape Town Winelands & Garden Route and co-author of the South Africa Handbook.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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