Johannesburg - Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula said the nation had been deprived of glory for long enough and implored Bafana Bafana to make South Africa proud at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament in Equatorial Guinea.
Read: AFCON is just the beginning - Jordaan
Speaking at the team's send-off in Johannesburg on Wednesday, Mbalula said the current team had shown they had the potential to become great.
"This is a special moment for the country ... and it is important that you, the players, should show a fighting spirit," he said.
"You have restored the pride, the glory and belief of a nation. You must go there and compete for your country. This is what we have always wanted. I think you have come of age now."
Bafana Bafana were jetting off to Gabon for a pre-tournament camp and were also scheduled to play a warm-up match against Cameroon on Saturday in Libreville, before Afcon kicked off on January 17.
Mbalula, who a year ago called the Bafana team a "bunch of losers" after they were dumped out of the 2014 African Nations Championship (Chan), said a good team performance meant there was less to talk about off the field.
"We have to thank you when you are doing well because we talk a lot when things are not going well," he said.
"Well done to the coaching staff for guiding these young boys to the Africa Cup of Nations. I want to salute the players for taking us to this point."
SA Football Association president Danny Jordaan also addressed the team before their departure.
"As a team you have created the basis for the country to have faith and believe in Bafana," Jordaan said.
"All our blessings for the tournament. You go there with our total support. In our eyes you have already done a lot, and you can take us further."
Bafana take on Algeria in their first AFCON match at the Estadio de Mongomo on January 19.
Coach Shakes Mashaba's men were drawn in group C with Ghana and Senegal completing what is considered one of the toughest groups in the tournament.
Bafana's unbeaten record since Mashaba took charge in August stands at five wins and three draws.