SIX years ago when Fifa took the historic decision to award the African continent the right to host the world's biggest sporting event - the 2010 Fifa World Cup - many were skeptical and questioned our ability and readiness.
Before the kickoff of the opening match between South Africa and Mexico on June 11 many of those detractors had retracted their criticism and doubts about our readiness and ability to do so.
When the referee blew the final whistle, ending the match between Spain and the Netherlands, our country and our people bid goodbye to the world's biggest sporting event and brought to an end 31 days of a thrilling football festival.
Having been the centre of the world's attention for 31 days, perhaps the biggest question in everyone's mind is: what now? How do we harness this renewed patriotism and new-found international stature into tackling the socio-economic challenges that have stood stubbornly since 1994?
Surely, the benefits of such a major event should continue to accrue long after the final whistle.
This will not happen without any deliberate action on our part. Countries such as Spain (Barcelona Olympic Games, 1992), Greece (Athens Olympic 2004) and Germany (World Cup, 2006) have turned the positive legacy of these major sporting events into long-lasting social and economic programmes.
There is no doubt that 2010 will be edged in our minds and those of future generations as the year in which South Africa and the African continent rose to the challenge and reclaimed its rightful position among community of nations.
The highlights were the rousing displays of patriotism by all South Africans.
These brought memories of 1990 when Nelson Mandela first walked out of Victor Verster prison and when we held the first democratic elections in 1994.
In the streets, villages, townships and suburbs, South Africans are more united and in love with our beautiful country than ever before.
The successful hosting of the World Cup has not only put South Africa and Africa on the world map, but also lifted our national pride to the high water mark.
This is affirmation of the African century. The fact that our country is the first in the African continent to host this prestigious event fills us with additional pride and emotion.
Certainly there are valuable lessons to be derived from the World Cup legacy. As our President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, noted recently, "we must make 2010 the year in which we renew our commitment to national unity and nation building".
While hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup has provided our country with golden opportunities to boost the growth of the tourism and sports industry, which may be regarded as quick wins, it also provides our government and people with a long-term opportunity to tackle other development challenges in areas such as poverty reduction, education and health, to name a few.
The success of this mega sporting event offers us an opportunity to mobilise and unite our people behind a common goal of building a South Africa that belongs to all and to change the lives of our people for the better.
By hosting this tournament which is hailed as the most successful, we have demonstrated that we are equal to the best.
As the government, our immediate priority is to transfer the expertise and efficiency acquired in the process of preparing and hosting, into a government machinery.
The immediate benefits of this World Cup to government are clearly visible - it has strengthened synergies between various levels of government and also enabled us to move decisively on a wide range of issues that would have otherwise taken many years to complete. It has brought government, business and civil society organisations to work together on large-scale national initiatives that will have a long-term impact.
These synergies should become the permanent feature of how our government operates and eliminate barriers between different levels of government.
Two such innovative initiatives are the National Action Plan to protect children from abuse, neglect and exploitation, as well as the Red Card campaign to deal with human trafficking. These are some of the legacy projects that we will incorporate into government interventions.
We should also not let the collective experience accumulated by the cadre of volunteers go to waste because their experience can be used in many different ways such as to improve the administrative functioning of local community based organisations or local sporting organisations.
As Danny Jordaan correctly observed (Sunday Times, July 11), "Now our collective challenge is clear: to keep the spirit of 2010 alive, to nurture the flame of unity and self-confidence, to ensure this precious light illuminates our country for years to come."
As government we now face with the challenge to bring these positive actions to bear on everything we do, to make us a winning nation.
From protecting our children, improving our health system and infrastructure, I am confident that we will collectively rise to the development challenges that we must confront domestically and indeed, in the international community.
Successfully hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup will bequeath to our people and our nation a legacy we all can be proud of.
I am sure our government will once again rise to the challenge of continuing to tackle the development challenges and building a better future for all South Africans.
As we reflect on this glorious moment, our warm thanks go to President Jacob Zuma for rallying all spheres of government to host this successful tournament.
Our special thanks also go to the LOC under the astute joint leadership of Irvin Khoza and Danny Jordaan for their tireless work, and to many gracious volunteers without whom none of these glories would have been possible.
lThe writer is the Minister of Social Development