“This is the greatest thing that could have happened,” said former Bafana Bafana great and World Cup ambassador Mark Fish after Zakumi, a green-haired, yellow Leopard with a disarming, impish smile was unveiled on national TV on Monday night as the mascot for the 2010 tournament in South Africa.

Said a straight-faced Fish in relation to his present role and that of fellow-ambassador and former Bafana team-mate Phil Masinga: “People were begining to think Phil and I were the World Cup mascots after we had attended so many of the 2010 launches and functions.

But with this little fella around, he’s going to draw all the attention like a magnet and we’ll be able to relax a little and take a back seat.”

For the record, Zakumi, symbolically born on June 16, 1994 when South Africa officially shed the tentacles of apartheid, is the 12th mascot of its kind since England’s lion, World Cup Willie, started the tradition in 1966 – with the South African mascot probably due to become more recognisable universally than Fifa president Sepp Blatter by the time the 2010 tournament kicks off in Johannesburg on June 11.

The name Zakumi is a composition of ZA, the lettering denoting South Africa and “Kumi”, which means 10 in various languages across South Africa. “Unfortunately,” said Local Organising Committee media director Tim Modise, “while Zakumi is born and bred in South Africa, he belongs to the 2010 tournament as a whole and we won’t be able to field him in the Bafana line-up.

But he should, nevertheless, become an inspirational source for the players who are selected.” Fifa Director of Marketing Thierry Weil said the mascots had become an intrinsic part of the tournaments themselves and it was possible soccer’s controlling body might create a museum or a Hall of Fame to honour the various World Cup symbols.

And now, with Germany’s Goleo, a lion, due to be set out to pasture following the introduction of Zakumi, LOC CEO Danny Jordaan said the 2010 version, created by Cape Town designer Andries Odendaal and costumed by Cora Simpson, was anointed with hope of becoming an inspiration and recognisable figure of what was best in the tournament itself.