JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa will benefit from the infrastructure developed for the soccer World Cup and should use the sport as a unifying force for years after the tournament, President Jacob Zuma said on Monday.
Zuma also took a swipe at those who doubted South Africa's ability to hold one of the world's most watched sporting events, saying the spectacle was a celebration for fellow African states who had helped in the fight against white apartheid rule.
"After many years of planning and hard work, we can tonight celebrate the long road we have journeyed together in our preparations for this first African World Cup," Zuma said in a speech prepared for a World Cup banquet.
"South Africa has come alive and will never be the same again after this World Cup."
He said the massive investment in infrastructure, which led to the construction of world-class stadiums and the overhauling of major highways, would help position South Africa as a country of choice for investment and business interests.
"The infrastructure development will continue as part of the World Cup legacy to benefit all South Africans in years to come and enable all citizens to have improved access to services and infrastructure.
"After the final whistle, we have to ensure through effective development programmes, that football becomes a truly unifying and meaningful sport for our people as part of the legacy of the World Cup," Zuma added.
Echoing the South African leader, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said the tournament would inspire trust in South Africa and the rest of the continent.
"I am sure it will be the greatest World Cup in history," Blatter said.
World Cup fever has gripped South Africa four days before the tournament begins, with many local companies expected to give workers time off on days the host country has matches.
"The challenge for employers is to ensure that there is some productivity at work this month," Zuma quipped.
(Reporting Barry Moody, Writing by Stella Mapenzauswa; Editing by Ed Osmond)