JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - From Table Mountain to Soweto, the pulsating chants of traditional songs and the blasting of plastic horns sounded the start of the first World Cup to be held on African soil on Friday.
At least three people were hurt in a crush at the start of a live broadcast of the tournament’s opening game at a viewing site for fans in Johannesburg, witnesses said, but the mood at dozens of fan parks across the vast country was generally joyful.
Fans kept on blowing their vuvuzela horns even after a Mexican equalizer held the host nation to a 1-1 draw in the opening match and a torrential downpour was not enough to dampen spirits in the city of Bloemfontein.
“It has united the nation ... the Rainbow Nation has gathered together,” said 36-year-old teacher Disebo as she joined in the chorus in the usually quiet city, which lies in the country’s Afrikaner heartland.
As almost 85,000 fans with tickets watched the opener at the showpiece Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, many more got into the party mood in their home cities.
Massive television screens were set up in dozens of fan parks to make sure ordinary South Africans could Bafana Bafana (The Boys) take on Mexico. Other supporters packed into bars and cafes.
“A draw is better than a loss so there’s still hope to be top of the group ... the country’s spirit is what it’s all about,” said Shaun Jooste, 30, who watched the game in a bar in Johannesburg’s business district.
Two boys and a girl were hurt at one downtown fan park in the city as fans surged forward at the start of the game, pushing over a security fence, witnesses said.
In Johannesburg alone, about a dozen fan parks and viewing sites have been set up, able to cater for some 100,000 supporters.
South Africans hope the World Cup marks a new chapter for a country troubled by crime, AIDS and racial division 16 years after the end of apartheid, and patriotic spirits were running high.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment for six years, not just me, not just my children but ... all of South Africa,” said Temba Tabete, a carpenter from the eastern city of Nelspruit, one of the smallest and sleepiest World Cup venues.
The nation has been preparing to host the tournament since FIFA voted to stage it in Africa for the first time in 2004.
In Cape Town, the 25,000-capacity fan site has been set up just outside the City Hall where Nelson Mandela delivered his first speech as a free man after his release from prison and with a stunning backdrop of Table Mountain and palm trees.
Stewards were letting supporters in gradually to avert a repeat of the crush that injured six people at the site at a concert on Thursday.
“It’s incredible that 20 years ago South Africa wasn’t even allowed to compete in international sport and now the whole world is focused on us,” said Claire Davidson, a 26-year-old conference organizer in the coastal city.
Street vendors were making the most of the crowds, doing a brisk trade in barbecued chicken and sausages.
“The World Cup is making us some cash,” said Thulani Mazula, 18, wearing an apron as she grilled sausages in the Motherwell township just northeast of Port Elizabeth. “People with full stomachs make better Bafana Bafana supporters.”
Barefoot children kicked soccer balls about nearby, some wearing wigs and home-made team jerseys, while thousands of fans danced in the sand in Durban at a beach party that carried on after the final whistle.
“I couldn’t sleep last night because of the excitement and the noise,” said Tiisetso Mohapi, a 25-year-old businessman at a fan park set up in Bloemfontein’s main square.
At a nearby bar, black and white fans mingled in a joyous mood.
“It’s the nation coming together, black and white,” said Lluwellin-lee Peyper, 26. “Everyone in the world is watching us and we want to show them what South Africa is really like.”
Additional reporting by Angus MacSwan, Serena Chaudhry, Agnieszka Flak, Alexandra Hudson, Kate Holton, Zoran Milosavljevic, Gideon Long, David Clarke and Opheera McDoom; editing by Jon Bramley