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Zuma hails World Cup

CAPE TOWN, July 7- President Jacob Zuma said Tuesday the World Cup has brought "priceless" benefits to South Africa, as fans of the Netherlands and Uruguay descended on Cape Town for their semi-final match.With Sunday’s final now just days away, Zuma said the 33 billion rand (4.2 billion dollars, 3.4 billion euros) spent by the national treasury had led to lasting improvements in communications and transport.

But the social impact had been even greater, he said, as black and white fans packed into stadiums and fan parks together, 16 years after the first all-race elections ended white-minority rule.

"The social benefits are priceless. We have seen remarkable unity, patriotism and solidarity being displayed by South Africans, which has never been witnessed before," Zuma told an investment meeting.

"This augurs well for the consolidation of reconciliation and friendship for this young nation. We intend to build on this achievement."

After nearly four weeks of celebrating football, South Africans are bracing for the time when the spotlight shifts away.

"I’m heartsore because the atmosphere is indescribable," said 18-year-old Jason Brown, among the thousands of fans in Cape Town’s city centre ahead of the match.

"Everyone’s jolly and having a great time and it’s nice meeting people from other countries."

Until the World Cup, football was perceived as a black sport in South Africa, but the tournament has seen racially mixed stands and an outpouring of national pride.

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Sports authorities are expected to announce Wednesday that a rugby test match, traditionally seen as a white sport, will be held in Johannesburg’s Soccer City on the outskirts of the black township of Soweto, in a move to keep the enthusiasm going.

But Tuesday the focus remained on Cape Town as the city hosted its last game of the tournament at 1830 GMT.

Thousands of Netherlands fans paraded toward the stadium behind an orange bus blaring Dutch tunes, with fans singing and dancing in the streets.

"It’s really lovely to see everyone have a party," said Marcel de Weijs, 30, wearing an orange cape with faux fur trim. "I also hope that there will be a big party in the stadium."

The airport reported a surge in charter flights and private jets bringing in fans, and street vendors shoved their blue Uruguay wigs to the back of their stands to cater for the demand for orange.

Uruguay is playing their first World Cup semi-final match in 40 years. But after a hand ball robbed Ghana of a quarter-final win, on top of Uruguay’s drubbing South Africa in the group stages, many local fans are rooting for Netherlands.

Attention turns to Durban on Wednesday as Germany face Spain in the last semi-final.

Preparations for the closing show Sunday remain a closely guarded secret, but the main question is whether Nelson Mandela will be there.

South Africa’s first black president cancelled a planned appearance at the June 11 opening, after his great-granddaughter was killed in a car accident.

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The Nobel laureate turns 92 one week after the final and appears in increasingly frail health. His foundation says no decision has been made yet on whether he will attend, and his schedule is prone to change at the last minute.

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