The World Cup was handed to Nelson Mandela on Thursday as it began the last leg of its journey around the globe 35 days before the kick-off.
Mandela, who led South Africa out of the apartheid era in 1994, last held the gold trophy with tears rolling down his face in 2004, when the tournament was awarded to Africa for the first time.
Mandela, widely known here by his clan name Madiba, and in frail health at the age of 91, rarely makes public appearances and was handed the trophy at the offices of his foundation in Johannesburg by FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke.
"Nelson Mandela was one of the architects of this FIFA World Cup ...Madiba is the symbol of this new democratic South Africa. For us there was no way that the trophy would arrive in the country and not be brought first to Mandela," Valcke said.
He added that Mandela hopes South Africa would win the World Cup, a wish shared with little conviction by most local fans.
South Africa, known as Bafana Bafana (the boys), are one of the weakest teams to have hosted the soccer spectacular and there are fears they will be the first not to make the knockout second round of the finals.
On Friday, the trophy will begin a tour of South Africa in the Cape Town township of Khayelitsha.