New bus lines, repaired roads, refurbished hotels and bands of tour guides signal the approaching Friday kickoff of the World Cup 2010, but nothing has come to represent South Africa's ambitions more than its 10 new and renovated soccer stadiums.
Ahead of the international tournament that lasts through July 11, South African officials are repeating a phrase they've spoken for years about the FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) World Cup: "We are ready."
From a glistening stadium bowl in Cape Town that lights up during sunsets, to the zebra-print seats in the safari gateway of Nelspruit, the stadiums were designed to convey pride, beauty and economic sophistication.
Many were built within view of the nation's sprawling slums that still remain nearly two decades after South Africa's apartheid days, and not everyone is pleased with the juxtaposition.
"It's a crime against humanity that you have this beautiful baby towering in the skies above this slum," said the mayor of Nelspruit, Lassy Chiwayo, quoted The Guardian.
Critics also have complained that the stadiums consumed scarce government resources.
"We're not anti-World Cup, but the reality is that while billions are being spent on new stadiums and renovating existing stadiums, poor people are being denied housing, jobs, and access to public services like water and electricity," said Paul Collins, spokesman for the London-based nonprofit War on Want."With FIFA creaming off most of the profits, the question remains: Who will gain from the World Cup?"
But the nation's leaders say the infrastructure upgrade is the building block for a more internationalized economy. The country's tourism ministry anticipates several hundred thousand visitors will descend upon South Africa for the competition -- a major boost for business and the tourism sector.
The largest of the country's World Cup venues is Soccer City in Johannesburg -- a 94,700-seat stadium built on the site of a former gold mine that will host the opening and final matches. Architects incorporated dark tones and a bowl shape to make the stadium look like a giant calabash, or traditional African pot. Daylight pierces hundreds of gaps the facade -- a nod to an ancient San myth that says the stars in the night sky shine through the tiny holes of an enormous stone calabash.
"The calabash pot is a symbol in Africa of cohesiveness, of people being together. And Soccer City is designed in exactly the same fashion: It resembles a pot, it resembles wealth, it resembles cohesiveness, people being together," said Jacques Grobbelaar, executive chairman of Stadium Management South Africa, which manages the Soccer City facility and will continue to do so after the World Cup. Companies are even holding meetings in what will be the team changing rooms of the new stadium, he added.
Grobbelaar describes more of the stadium's features by telephone in this slide show: