Zuma calls on South Africans to celebrate

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma says after many years of planning and hard work, South Africa should now celebrate the long journey it has traveled in preparation for the first FIFA World Cup on African soil.

This comes as soccer fever grips the country with only two days left before the historic opening match between Bafana Bafana and Mexico at Soccer City Stadium on June 11.

Speaking on the occasion to welcome members of the FIFA executive committee in the country on Monday night, Zuma said the hosting of the World Cup has helped South Africa consolidate the gains it has achieved since attaining democracy in 1994.

"The journey that we traveled to achieve our freedom and democracy is marked by the struggles and sacrifices of many South Africans...after many years of hard work we can tonight celebrate," Zuma told the more than 200 guests who gathered at Gallagher Estates for the occasion.

While the venue appeared to be crowded with repeated complaints of heat, dance group African Footprints ensured that guests were kept entertained throughout the night.

Also gracing the event were several Cabinet ministers, the leadership of the South African Football Association (SAFA) and diplomats from various embassies present in the country.

Zuma said the World Cup has helped "entrench" the belief that South Africa was a proud nation united in its diversity. The infrastructure developed ahead of the world cup will help position South Africa as a country of choice for investment and business interests.

Zuma said the country could not have reached all the accomplishments without the "dedication" of thousands of South Africans who toiled to ensure a world class event.

"There were many times during these six years when we were told the challenge for our country was far too great," Zuma said.

He said South Africa will never be the same after the World Cup and whilst onlookers may reflect on South Africa as a "miracle", it was one that was fought for through many years of struggle and negotiation.

"It is the sacrifice and suffering of many South Africans that brought us to the point where the international community could entrust us with such a responsibility.

"It is the sacrifice of our African brothers and sisters on the continent, the Diaspora and indeed many in the world over," he said.

SAFA President Kirsten Nemathandani, who referred to FIFA president Sepp Blatter as a "friend of the African people", said the excitement that has invaded South Africa since 2004 was difficult to describe. He expressed gratitude to Blatter for standing "firm in his belief that Africa can do it".

"One cannot work without committed administrators...so we would like to thank you sir for your commitment in uplifting the game," said Nemathandani.