Youth festival off to roaring start
Pretoria - The 17th World Festival of Youth and Students kicked off at Pretoria’s Lucas Moripe Stadium on Monday amid much fanfare, loud music and flag waving.
The festival, which has generated criticism over its funding, will see artists perform and a military parade before South African President Jacob Zuma was expected to deliver the opening address later on Monday.
Security outside the stadium was tight and the various delegates from the different countries arrived as hawkers carried out a brisk trade selling snacks and drinks while billboards advertising a satellite television broadcaster were being mounted on the outside walls of the stadium.
As an announcer read out the names of the countries from which delegates were expected to arrive, cheers broke out with Cuba and Palestine receiving loud roars of approval.
A procession of delegations in national costume, chanting and carrying an assortment of posters and banners marched around the stadium to loud cheers.
Estimates of the crowd ranged from four to seven thousand people at the stadium, but more people were reported to be registering for the conference at the Pretoria show grounds where the bulk of events for the festival are due to take place this week.
The Zimbabwean contingent received loud applause as some of the members carried posters that read "Illegal Sanctions Must Go".
Earlier on Monday, minister in the presidency Colins Chabane issued a statement welcoming delegates to the festival.
"Thousands of young people attending the festival will have an opportunity to interact and discuss social, political and economic issues towards the development of young people," he said.
The festival, to be held under the theme "Let's Defeat Imperialism", hosted by the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) in partnership with the World Federation of Democratic Youth, is scheduled to end on December 21.
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The event is set to cost about R69m. Of this amount, R40m had come from the National Lotteries Board.
Funding of the festival has raised the ire of charity groups and political parties, who have claimed that the money could be better spent helping the poor.
Speakers listed on the agenda for the week range from Kgalema Motlanthe, Winnie Mandela and Julius Malema to disgraced former police boss Jackie Selebi, who will address a seminar titled "Anti-communist, anti-democratic and anti-scientific contents of school books".
Two notable absentees from the list of speakers were SA Communist Party secretary general Blade Nzimande and Zwelinzima Vavi, the general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions.