Africa

World Cup opens in tragedy for Mandela

nelson_mandela10062010JOHANNESBURG (AP)—Nelson Mandela’s 13-year-old great-granddaughter was killed in a car crash, forcing the former president to forego a hoped-for appearance at the World Cup’s opening game Friday.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation said Zenani Mandela died in a one-car accident after attending Thursday’s World Cup kickoff concert at the Orlando Stadium.

The foundation later confirmed Mandela would not attend the World Cup opening ceremony and first game in Johannesburg, dashing hopes the frail 91-year-old former president would make a rare appearance. Mandela and his family were “torn up” by the accident, the foundation said at its Johannesburg office.

“Mr. Nelson Mandela this morning learnt of the tragic death in an accident of his great granddaughter Zenani Mandela,” foundation spokesman Sello Hatang said, reading from a prepared statement. “It would therefore be inappropriate for him to personally attend the FIFA World Cup opening celebrations.”

“We are sure that South Africans and people all over the world will stand in solidarity with Mr. Mandela and his family in the aftermath of this tragedy.”

Johannesburg Metro police spokeswoman Edna Mamonyane said the driver of the car, a man, had been arrested and charged with drink-driving. Mamonyane said the driver, who police would not name, could also face culpable homicide charges.

“The Metro police found that he was drunk,” Mamonyane said. “He lost control of the vehicle and it collided with a barricade.”

Police spokesman Govindsamy Mariemuthoo said the driver would appear in court for a preliminary hearing Friday, after which he would be named.

The Mandela foundation denied reports that the former president’s ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was in the car, but said she was treated in hospital for shock after being told of the fatal accident, and she was discharged after a few hours.

She later attended the opening ceremony, with her two daughters.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter wrote to Mandela to “convey the condolences of the entire football family.”

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who was in South Africa to lead his country’s delegation to the opening ceremony, also expressed condolences, as did South Africa’s governing African National Congress party.

Zenani, who celebrated her 13th birthday Wednesday, was one of the anti-apartheid icon’s nine great-grandchildren.

Mandela, who turns 92 on July 18, has largely retired from public life although it had been anticipated he would make a brief appearance at the World Cup opening ceremony Friday, depending on his health and the weather.

In a statement Thursday, the Foundation said it had been “inundated with requests for meetings, and it will be impossible for Mr. Mandela to accede to even a small fraction of these.” But Mandela met this week with members of the Black Eyed Peas, one of the main acts at Thursday’s concert, and Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo and coach Carlos Queiroz—the latter a former coach of South Africa.

Gerald Imray in Johannesburg contributed to this report

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