Nelson Mandela To Miss Opening Ceremony For 2010 World Cup After Great-Granddaughter Is Killed In Car Accident

A picture taken on December 7, 2008 shows former South African president Nelson Mandela hugging his great granddaughter Zenani Mandela.

JOHANNESBURG—Former South African President Nelson Mandela said he won’t be able to attend the World Cup’s opening match Friday due to the death of his great-granddaughter, casting a cloud over the event.

Mr. Mandela’s 13-year-old great-granddaughter, Zenani Mandela, was killed in a car accident shortly after midnight on the way home from a concert to mark the start of the global sporting event in Soweto. Her driver was arrested on drunk-driving charges and could face culpable homicide charges.

The 91-year old former president rarely makes public appearances anymore but was scheduled to attend the first match of the first World Cup to be hosted on the African continent. The opening game will take place Friday afternoon between South Africa and Mexico.

“It is sad for the entire nation and the world,” President Jacob Zuma’s government spokesman Vincent Magwenya said. “It is an important day in our history and the culmination of the enormous contribution Nelson Mandela made to South Africa.”

Mr. Mandela has been credited with bringing the World Cup to South Africa and is to many the symbol of post-apartheid South Africa. When Joseph S. Blatter, president of soccer’s governing body FIFA, announced in 2004 thatSouth Africa had been selected to host World Cup he described the former president as an “architect” of the coming tournament.

FIFA said that Mr. Blatter has written to Mr. Mandela to convey the condolences of “the entire football family.”

In comments made earlier in the week, Mr. Mandela underscored the significance of sports, calling the World Cup more than a game.

“It symbolizes the power of football to bring people together from all over the world, regardless of language, the color of one’s skin, political or religious persuasion,” he said.

Mr. Magwenya said Mr. Zuma visited Mr. Mandela Thursday ahead of the opening ceremonies.

“He was looking forward to today’s festivities,” Mr. Magwenya said. “Every South African would have enjoyed sharing the experience with him.”

The Nelson Mandela Foundation said the former president will be there in spirit despite the accident.

“We continue to believe that the 2010 FIFA World Cup is a momentous and historic occasion for South Africa and the continent and we are certain it will be a huge success,” it said.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who is visiting South Africa for the second time and has plans to watch his country’s national team play against England on Saturday, expressed his condolences to the Mandela family.

“The greatest loss is the loss of a child,” Mr. Biden said at the U.S. embassy in Johannesburg. “It makes you realize how precious life is.”

Mr. Biden last visited South Africa in late 1970s, before Mr. Mandela’s 1994 election as the country’s first black president brought an end to apartheid rule. South Africa expects more than 300,000 visitors for the World Cup.



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