The first steps to rallying and mobilising 12 million South African school pupils behind the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ began in Soweto today with the launch of the South African Schools Partnership.

The partnership, between the national Department of Education, the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa and the Department of Sport and Recreation, is aimed at mobilising and educating pupils from the country's 30 000 schools about the first FIFA World Cup™ being held on African soil.

The objective is to promote mass participation of learners around the legacy themes of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, using education, music, arts, cultural activities and football.

South Africa's Education Minister Naledi Pandor said the campaign announced today at the Moletsane Sports Complex would be rolled out in two phases, with the first involving the country's schools pupils assuming the identities of the countries that will be competing in the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009 from March 14-28 in five South African host cities.

The tournament features the champions of the six FIFA Confederations, as well as 2010 hosts South Africa and the defending world champions Italy.

Minister Pandor said the provincial departments of education would ensure that as part of their curriculum schools conducted research on and learnt about the countries who have qualified for the Confederations Cup, who are to date Copa America champions Brazil, Concacaf winners the United States, Asian champions Iraq and African champions Egypt.

The second phase would be pupils' writing of essays about the competing countries, as well as art competitions and inter school football tournaments.

"My Department is very proud to be at the centre of co-ordinating this significant event, with the Department of Sports and Recreation and the 2010 Organising Committee. We believe this will encourage mass youth participation in football and help nurture our young boys and girls," said Minister Pandor.

Addressing pupils from the eight schools that attended the launch of the partnership, Minister Pandor said: "You are the future world champions. We want to see you one day leading the South African soccer squad that will win the World Cup. The future excellence of South Africa lies in your hands and in your future. It is what you make of your opportunities that will determine what your future will be".

Dr Khoza said it was one of the Organising Committee's primary objectives to get the 2010 FIFA World Cup message to all corners of the country and the continent, which made the partnership launched today all the more important.

"South Africans may be crazy about soccer, but that's not the only motivation behind a program that is aimed at reaching 12 million learners across the country. Consequently, schools have been identified as a primary vehicle through which to get the 2010 FIFA World Cup messages not only to children, but indeed families and to communities in South Africa and also on the African continent," said Dr Khoza.

He said the campaign was built around the development and implementation of an integrated education campaign aimed at informing and educating learners and teachers on all aspects of the World Cup and its participating countries.

It also sought to ensure adequate opportunities were created for capacity building amongst teachers and learners through the development and implementation of football development programmes at school level and the provision of sufficient physical infrastructure.

And lastly it also aimed to ensure maximum exposure to and participation of learners, teachers and communities in exciting and structured 2010 FIFA World Cup™ activities.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation, official national broadcaster of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, have also added their considerable platforms and support to the schools partnership.