Zakumi, a life-size puppet whose name is a conflation of ZA (Zuid Afrika), the old Afrikaans abbreviation for South Africa, and `kumi`, meaning 10 in several African languages, was unveiled on national television in the World Cup host nation Monday evening.
Zakumi - portrayed on television as a live puppet with someone inside - belongs to a generation known in South Africa as the `born frees`.
Born in 1994, the year of South Africa`s first democratic elections, Zakumi was conceived by local designers as a symbol of the teenage Rainbow Nation, warts (or spots) and all.
His birthday, June 16, falls on the anniversary of the Soweto Uprising, the day in 1976 when thousands of schoolchildren in the sprawling township outside Johannesburg took to the streets to protest repressive apartheid policies.
This big cat sports moss-green spiky hair, a white tee-shirt marked South Africa 2010 and green shorts. `Zakumi represents the people, geography and spirit of South Africa, personifying in essence the 2010 FIFA World Cup,` FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke said in a statement.
`He is young, energetic, smart and ambitious,` Danny Jordaan, chief executive of the FIFA 2010 local organising committee, said at the launch of the mascot on the set of a football programme on public broadcaster SABC.
As to why a leopard, Jordaan noted Africa`s other favourite predator, the lion, had already been used by Britain and Germany during the 1966 and 2006 World Cups respectively.