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The South African Football Association (Safa) has honoured President Jacob Zuma, former Presidents Thabo Mbeki, FW de Klerk and Kgalema Motlanthe for the role they played in uplifting football in the country.

Safa also honoured posthumously the country’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, during a glittering event before its Annual General Meeting (AGM) at the Sandton Convention Centre on Saturday morning.

Former President De Klerk used the platform to echo the importance of social cohesion and building a non-racial South Africa.

“The award you presented to me belongs to South Africans because in my opinion, they were the real stars during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. For a magic few weeks in 2010, they showed the successful outcome we can achieve and the goodwill we can generate when we, as South Africans, work together for a common goal.

“I believe we should free ourselves from the divisive approaches that set some South Africans against each other. We should unite once again as we did with the World Cup.

“We should recapture the magic of 2010 by working together to ensure that all South Africans can be winners. Maybe the best starting point will be as we did with the World Cup - identify our strengths, our weaknesses, highlight our strengths and improve where we are weak,” said De Klerk.

He said if the nation can do all that with the economy using the 2010 World Cup approach to attract investment from across the world, South Africa will be a winner again.

Former President Mbeki said: “We continue to face many challenges and I think it indicates the direction in which we need to move. Hopefully, this constitutes a common pledge that as South Africans, we will continue to act together to do better than we have done in the past.

“We need to thank the people of South Africa and the leadership of football for the journey that we have travelled in soccer and other sporting codes so far.

“We really need to thank them for what was done in the past and hopefully what we are going to do in future. Thank you so much for this award.”

Former Deputy President Motlanthe, who served as President between September 2008 and May 2009, said: “Football in particular is a great unifier and international language. That is why all these players play all over the world with no difficulties because when it comes to communicating, everybody understands the language.”

Mandela’s award was received by his first granddaughter Ndileka Mandela, who is continuing his legacy in the field of education and health in rural areas through a foundation named after her father and Madiba’s first born son, Thembekile Mandela.

“His legacy and spirit is continuing through me by making sure that children in rural areas are also enjoying and benefiting from the available education and sporting activities.

“I am appealing to both the Sport Minister and Safa to make sure that they join hands in rolling out programmes and sporting facilities in rural areas. Together let’s give these children in rural areas a chance to benefit from sporting activities,” she said.

Sport and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula said players must take great pride in representing the country.

“To play for Bafana Bafana, one needs to be patriotic and committed to deliver the desired results.”

The Minister accepted President Zuma’s award on his behalf as he was unable to attend the event due to other government engagements. –