Mandela waiting for the polling booths to open. This gives a chance to chat to the people gatherered there. One scribe posed the question "Mr Mandela, who are you voting for?". To which he replied: "I have been debating that question in my mind for the past few days and have not yet arrived at a decision"

This day will  never be forgotten. It was just past 07:00 hours on 27 April 1994. There was Nelson Mandela walking out of the polling booth to cast his second vote (regional)

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in the presence of the waiting journalists – national and international. This was a special dispensation made to accommodate the press corps. The first one was for the national assembly. Here was a man casting his vote for the first time. He was 76.

Until then, the venue was a top secret. The leader of the African National Congress (ANC) had decided to cast his vote in the Province of KwaZulu Natal. Which polling booth? That was the question and the ANC was not talking. Instead, we were asked to gather at 04:00 hours in front of the ANC office in Durban. Over 400 journalists gathered there.

An hour later we were given a slip of paper which revealed that Mandela will cast his vote at the Ohlange Institute at a place called Inanda, about 30kms outside Durban. The Ohlange Institution was set up by the first President of the ANC, Dr. John Dube in 1901, who was also one of the founders of the Zulu newspaper Ilanga lase Natal (sun over Natal) and this was Mandela’s way of saying THANK YOU to this great pioneer. We were bussed to the venue as private transport were not allowed.

It was the day that the world had waited for although many moons had gone by in the meantime. It was the day that the first, non-racist, democratic elections were to be held in the land at the tip of the African Continent after centuries of colonial and racist rule.

I must admit that the occasion was overwhelming. Suddenly I was blinded by my four decades in the struggle. It just came – the many arrests, imprisonments, solitary confinements, the torture and beatings, underground exploits, ignoring bannings (severe restriction on movements and association). Exile – with all its ups and downs combined with the worst aspect of all – uncertainty and home-sickness. The last two are murderous. The whole 40 years just passed through my mind in those few seconds. Unbelievable. I am quite certain I was not the only “victim” of such an experience. Later that day, I also cast my vote at the age of 62. It must be said that in the German Democratic Republic I was allowed to participate in local lections. That is not the case after the Wende in Germany.

Mandela voting for the first time at the age of 76. He was later appointed President by the South African Parliament.

Today South Africans are counting. Counting the days before the FIFA World Cup Finals kickoff at Soccer City in Johannesburg on 11 June this year. This, just after 16 years of new dispensation in the country, and the man who played a great role in this

victory for South Africa and the continent of Africa, was no other than the South African icon Nelson Mandela and his “twin” the Arch (Archbishop Desmond Tutu).

Nelson Mandela addressing the media after casting his vote a few minutes earlier at the Ohlange Institute.

This was revolution. A revolution that broke the monopoly that Europe had over this competition. Now, Europe also has to stand in the queue and wait its turn and I hope that the advancements made in the past few decades will move further. Whereas, Europe with its lion’s share of the places in the competition, has only a few matches before its team’s qualify for the finals. That is a far cry from what other continents have to go through. Maybe, their representation will also be increased as the years go by. I sincerely hope so.

No sooner was the decision made in favour of South Africa, the howls of protest began. Your scribe attaches this to the old colonial, racist mentality. How can “Kaffirs and Niggers” organise anything. Can they build decent stadiums? Do they have transport? Will they have enough accommodation? Security is a disaster The prophets of doom are busy even today as I pen this script. Even the local sceptics, those unable to see or think beyond their noses, have advanced thousands of reasons why the project will fail. Really sickening.

I will take the opportunity of quoting the FIFA President Sepp Blatter, when he addressed the press in Durban to mark the 100 days before kick off.

“Naturally the main topic making the rounds is whether South Africa will meet the deadline? President Blatter said: “Today marks the 100 days before the World Cup kick-off. The magical mark is a time for honest assessment of how much more needs to be done. It is a time when South Africa’s preparations are stripped down to the nuts and bolts. Its time for South Africa to show its hands”.

Mr Blatter was full of praise for the architecture and legacy programmes attached to the country’s ten new stadium which according to him will enter architectural history.

One topic that has been worrying and annoying FIFA, the organisers and the people of South Africa is the negative press reports especially in Great Britain and Germany. Firstly it was the preparedness of the country and now it is the question of security. Addressing the gathering eThekwini, President Blatter retorted:

“Why are they afraid? Are they reticent, is it a racial or cultural problem? Why do people not want to make the trip to South Africa now? Why”.

Brushing aside the excuse of security concerns, he added: “There has been a rugby World Cup, tennis and now golf. There is theatre, opera and Formula-1. Everything has been here. So, why team not football?”.

The FIFA President was supported by US Soccer Spokesman Michael Kammarman who spoke of his experience during the Confederation Cup last year. “We did not know what to expect, but found that South African fans were serious about football and have passion and joy for the game. They are not just passionate about the sport, but are proud to be hosting the tournament. The American team is satisfied with the security arrangements”.

German team manager Oliver Bierhoff was even more forthcoming. “Hosting the World Cup is a special occasion and a good opportunity to show the world how good the country is and how beautiful the people are. Thousands of tourists visit South Africa every year without incident and I dismiss negative comments in the German press as those of ignorant people”.

German Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor Guido Westerwelle , who visited South Africa in early April, said: “ I don’t believe there is any reason to doubt South Africa’s ability to host the World Cup. The Confederation Cup in June 2009 was a resoundingly successful dress rehearsal. I am convinced we will see a very special World Cup in South Africa”.

The world Cup Finals are a boon to South Africa. Much has been done to boost the infrastructure of the country such as transport, roads, accommodation and security. Security. eThekwini Mayor Obed Mlaba said: “This investment in preparing for the World Cup has not been undertaken with only the tournament in mind”.

Foreign Minister Westerwelle confirms that Germany plays, and will continue to play, an important role in economic relations with South Africa and is confident that other EU countries will also enhance their South African economic connection.

According to Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South Africa’s Minister of Tourism: “Long after the whistle is blown at the last match, we will continue to reap the rewards of the investments in this tournament which have catalysed huge developments. The total foreign direct spending in 2009 grew by 7 percent compared to 2008 to R79.4bn.*

Your scribe and the daughter of Dr. Dube wait patiently for the booths to open at 07:00 hours.

This is a tremendous feather in the cap of the industry in a time when all other tourism markets worldwide were in a slump”.

Speaking on behalf of the South African Government, Vice-President Kgalema Motlanthe stated that South has kept to its promise and would not disappoint in hosting a seamless event. “Despite the magnitude of the undertaking we have pulled through and FIFA President put his head on the block by putting his faith in Africa. We have delivered on what we promised to do”. Motlanthe praised the role of the African continent for the role it has played for this great gathering.

“For years now, African stars have played football all over the world and now they are able to play on home soil. Many will never get an opportunity such as this again in their lives”, he concluded.

Some advice for would be travellers to South Africa is necessary. At the time of the tournament, the country will be in full winter. Believe me, it can really get cold. I have just returned to Berlin a few days ago from  Johannesburg. That place was certainly ice-cold. Apart from Durban, where one must pack his/her swimming togs, the rest of the country can be freezing cold. During the day it is okay. The mornings and evenings are when the cold makes its presence felt.

The mini-bus taxis are a menace. They are a law unto themselves. Former President Thabo Mbeki called the mini-buses “coffins on wheels”. Unfortunately, due to the bungling of the transport system these mini-buses are a “necessary nuisance”. I for one, would be the happiest person when they disappear from our streets. One wonders where the drivers obtain their driving licences. The impression one gains is that they won the licence in a Tombola or that it fell off a Xmas tree. The guys respect no road rule. Just one example from Durban should suffice to confirm my fears. My wife and I are were sitting in a bus when the lights turned to allow pedestrians to cross. Suddenly a mini-bus came from nowhere and almost knocked into the people who were caught in the middle of the road. It included a very old woman. The cheek of it all – that bastard driver had a good laugh at the expense of that unfortunate elderly lady.

Need I say more?  So just be careful!

By Eric Singh, ANA Senior Contributing Editor

Photos by Karin Singh