Zakumi: spirit of South Africa 2010

He’s a fluffy young leopard with green dreadlocks and a wide smile; he’s energetic, enthusiastic, sociable, self-confident and ambitious – and he loves football. Meet Zakumi, the official mascot for the 2010 Fifa World Cup™.

For 40 years, each Fifa World Cup tournament has had its own unique mascot. The first was a lion called World Cup Willie, the mascot for the 1966 event, hosted by England.

Fifa and the South Africa 2010 Local Organising Committee (LOC) have given the 2010 mascot a distinct personality and personal history.

Zakumi “One thing is for sure, Zakumi will be first on the dancefloor and last off it at the biggest party in the world,” Fifa says on its website. “He symbolizes South Africa and the rest of the African continent through his self-confidence, pride, hospitality, social skills and warm-heartedness.”

Born on 16 June 1994

The name “Zakumi” is a composition of “ZA” (South Africa’s international country code) and “kumi”, a ki-Swahili word that means 10. Since South Africa aims to make 2010 a truly African World Cup, the LOC decided to use a word from a language widely spoken across the continent.

Another detail worth noting is that Zakumi was born on 16 June 1994, a day and a year of great significance in South Africa.

The 16th of June 1976 saw the beginning of the Soweto youth uprising, when schoolchildren took to the streets to protest against apartheid, many of them cut down by police gunfire.

And 1994 was the year that South Africans of all races cast their votes for the first time to elect a new post-apartheid democratic government.

“The big party is in 2010, when Zakumi turns 16, but we will also have had 16 years of democracy then,” says LOC chief executive Danny Jordaan said. Zakumi is therefore “the ambassador for all our hopes, dreams and aspirations in South Africa.”

‘Mascot with an attitude’

With the slogan “Zakumi: the mascot with an attitude”, Fifa describe Zakumi’s personality as lively, outgoing, adventurous and spontaneous – a “shrewd little fellow”.

They say he loves to perform and always follows his instinct and intuition, and has the tendency to exaggerate.

But, say Fifa, there is one thing that’s undeniable about Zakumi: he loves football. He sees it as a great way connect with others and break down language barriers.

As a sign of his undying passion for the game, he always carries his football around, using it to invite people to play with him.

Zakumi’s main priority, says Fifa, is to turn the World Cup into “one huge, joyful and unforgettable party and show the thousands of international guests the warmth and spirit of the African continent.”

South African soccer legend Lucas Radebe, “a close friend of Zakumi”, says the leopard “wants to create a good mood for the fans and raise the excitement for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, the first on African soil.

“He is a proud South African and wants to ensure that the world will come together in South Africa.”

Designed and dressed in South Africa

Zakumi was designed and his costume produced exclusively in South Africa.

A number of South African companies were asked to design a mascot for the 2010 World Cup, one that would represent both South Africa and Africa as a whole. The mascot had to be easily identifiable and had to represent the World Cup in a way that would leave a lasting impression.

After a long process of elimination, Fifa decided on a design by Cape Town designer Andries Odendaal.

The costume itself was produced by Cora’s Costumes of Boksburg, east of Johannesburg. Owned by Cora Simpson, the company has 22 years of experience in costume making, and has made other high-profile costumes, such as the US cartoon figures Bugs Bunny and Tweety the bird.

The man behind the actual creation of the figure is David Mbewe, who has worked with Cora’s Costumes for over 20 years. After meticulously choosing the right mix of fabrics and colours, Mbewe and his assistants assembled the costume, sewing the leopard spots by hand – no easy task, Simpson said.

A well-travelled leopard

And the green hair? According to Fifa, Zakumi dyed his hair “as he felt it would be the perfect camouflage against the green of the football pitch; a bit like his rosette spots are when hunting in the wilderness!”

Zakumi has got around a fair bit over the past few years, Fifa adds, travelling the whole of Africa “where the leopard habitat is good – pretty much everywhere from open savannahs, forests, jungles to mountainous areas, even deserts.

“He has therefore learned to adapt to new environments; enjoying the diversity in nature and people across the African continent.”

Since being unveiled as the 2010 World Cup mascot in September 2008, however, Zakumi has become a regular globe-trotter.

He’s ridden on an open-top bus through Luxembourg, he’s joined Spain’s national team at a training session in Brussels ahead of a 2010 qualifying match against Belgium, and of course he’s been visiting every corner of South Africa to generate excitement ahead of the first World to be played on African soil.

Don’t be surprised if he pops up in your neighbourhood next …

SAinfo reporter and

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