On 1 January 2010, South African President, Jacob Zuma, released his New Year’s message to the country. In his statement he marked the beginning of 2010 as the most important year for the nation since 1994.

Arguably the most iconic date in South African history, 1994 was the year of South Africa’s first democratic elections. It was in these elections that Nelson Mandela won a resounding victory to become the first unanimously elected president by the people of South Africa.

In his New Year address, Zuma focussed on how far the country had come since those first democratic elections. “Together as a nation we set the tone and made history in April 1994. We embarked on a phase of reconciliation and forgiveness, and worked hard to build one nation, united in its diversity. We have done well in this regard. The year 2010 is our next critical moment,” said Zuma.

FIFA.com went to the halls of academia and the corridors of big business to gauge the reaction to Zuma’s words to the nation.

Lawrence Hamilton, a Professor of politics at the University of Johannesburg and an affiliated lecturer at Cambridge University, feels that that Zuma was right in marking the year as an auspicious occasion for the nation.

“It is an important year for the country, given that a lot is expected of South Africa, a lot of pressure to perform.”

On a personal level Hamilton feels that the country has a unique opportunity to set the record straight on certain issues. “The FIFA World Cup and other such massive media and sporting events are really a kind of showcase. I spend a lot of the year in England, and I can tell you that South Africa is still thought of as a dangerous place to travel, so it does offer a very good opportunity to show that some of these more negative views of the country are exaggerated.”

Dr Richard Maponya, best known for building a business empire despite the restrictions of apartheid, has played an integral part in rebuilding South Africa and agrees with Zuma on the importance of this new year for South Africa.

“I think that President Zuma is right by saying that 2010 is the most important year, almost as important as 1994. I never dreamt I would see the World Cup in South Africa only 15 years after independence. It makes me feel very proud, it is a wonderful gift that has come to us,” said Maponya who is widely considered a hero in his home town of Soweto for his contribution to uplifting the area, with his most recent project – the Maponya Mall – becoming a popular attraction among Soweto residents.

Working in construction himself, Maponya realises the benefits the tournaments infrastructure offers to South Africans. “Through the World Cup we are going to have wonderful facilities, stadiums and roads and we are going to open the country to the opportunity of investment, the impact is going to be unbelievable.

What South Africa achieved in 1994 is something that is admired throughout the entire world. We never knew we could live together peacefully as we are today. The World Cup is happening and we are going to show the world who we are. I really believe we are going to be the mirror of Africa.”