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'Sport still unites South Africans'

Thousands of South Africans are expected to attend Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture Day today.

Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula. Picture: Marc Lewis/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Sport and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula says sport is still playing a key role in nation building.

Thousands of people are expected to attend the inaugural Nelson Mandela Sports and Culture day today, which celebrates former President Nelson Mandela's legacy.

The event is part of the Unite 4 Mandela campaign, which aims to unite South Africans in celebration of the statesman's vision of sport as a unifying force in society.

Mbalula was speaking at the Unite 4 Mandela gala dinner at the Sandton Convention Centre on Friday night.

The dinner was attended by sports stars, celebrities and public figures including former President FW de Klerk.

The event raised funds for the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.

Mbalula said South Africa is blessed to have a global icon like Madiba.

"The unite campaign, as a social equation campaign for the nation, is to say to us we've got everything in our hands to celebrate it. Madiba led from the front and we are blessed as South Africans."

Meanwhile, South African sporting leaders say today's event will be one of the highlights of their careers.

Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund said the team is honoured to contribute to the festivities.

"This is a fantastic occasion and no-one can in words express how we feel. We feel so honoured and so privileged just to be on the field and know we played in honour of his [Mandela's] legacy. It's a great feeling."

Bafana Bafana captain Itumeleng Khune said his team wants to make Madiba proud.

"We all want to play to win and it's very important we do that and make everyone in the country proud."

Banyana Banyana captain Janine van Wyk said although the ladies team won't be playing this year, she's excited to be part of this historic event.

"Hopefully next year they'll have the girls in as well. But it's good to see our boys coming together on the same pitch. Hopefully there'll be a lot of support out there from the fans."

The event will see two international soccer matches, a test rugby match and a concert taking place in the same arena on the same day.

The Springboks and Bafana Bafana play at the same venue on the same day for the first time. Proceedings will kick off with a match between Bafana and Burkina Faso, closely followed by the Boks vs Argentina.

All proceeds will go to the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital.

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