Two of South Africa’s most famous footballing sons visited the Johannesburg suburb of Alexandra on Friday. They were in town to show their support for next month’s Football For Hope festival, which takes place from 4 to 11 July in “Alex”, as the township is popularly known.

The ex-Bafana Bafana boys in question were Lucas Radebe and Maimane Alfred Phiri, both of whom hail from Alexandra. The former Leeds United skipper spent the morning signing autographs at a school and chatting to local children. Phiri put in an appearance at the township’s football stadium in the afternoon, enjoying a kick-around with youngsters benefiting from the Football For Hope programme and having his photo taken with members of the local committee.

“It’s important that young people from the area come and see these kids, who have been given the opportunity to take part in the festival because they have contributed something to their community,” said Phiri, a long-serving midfielder for the national side. “They are an example to us and we need them here. Football is very important to the people of Alex. It’s in our blood and we can’t wait to welcome the world here.”

Forming part of the countdown to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Friday’s promotional events drew large crowds, with the organisers handing out free gifts and information on next month’s festival, all to a musical backdrop.

This World Cup is not just about big stars. It’s also about bringing hope, change and opportunities to communities like Alexandra.

Sello Mahlangu, Football For Hope coach.

A temporary football stadium is being built in the township and will be used to stage a number of football-related events and other shows, all of them free.

The Football for Hope festival is an event that will celebrate culture, education and football and will draw on the power of the sport to help bring about social change. As part of the celebrations 32 teams of young boys and girls from disadvantaged communities from all over the world will gather in Alexandra to compete in a special tournament.

The teams all represent associations that use football as a means of resolving social problems around the globe, from the issue of abandoned children in the UK and anti-personnel mines in Cambodia to the prevention of HIV/AIDS in South Africa and the social integration of refugees in Australia.

“This World Cup is not just about big stars. It’s also about bringing hope, change and opportunities to communities such as Alexandra,” said Sello Mahlangu, one of the coaches of the teams taking part.

“It’s vital that the kids who live in Alex can see that even if you come from a deprived area, you can achieve lots of things if you work hard and stay out of trouble,” added Mahlangu, a local teenager. “I’d like to thank Football for Hope for the opportunity it is giving to the young people of Alex.”

An official event of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, the festival is being organised jointly by FIFA, streetfootballworld, the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa and the City of Johannesburg.