JOHANNESBURG – The death of Nelson Mandela’s great-granddaughter cast a shadow over the opening day of the World Cup on Friday, dampening the spirits of a nation proud and excited to be hosting the world’s most popular sporting event.
Zenani Mandela, 13, was killed in a car accident on the way home from a World Cup concert in Soweto on Thursday night, where tens of thousands of people had sung and danced with headline music stars Shakira and the Black Eyed Peas.
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The Nelson Mandela foundation said later Mandela would not attend Friday’s World Cup opening ceremony and game in Johannesburg, dashing South Africans’ hopes the frail 91-year-old former president would make a rare appearance.
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Mandela and his family were “torn up” by the accident, the foundation added. Mandela would be at the ceremony in spirit, a foundation spokesman added.
On Friday morning, streets in downtown Johannesburg were filled with cars and pedestrians waving South African flags and blowing vuvuzela trumpets as news that one of Mandela’s nine great grandchildren had died was emerging. Heavy security was evident in Johannesburg and in Soweto, near the Soccer City stadium where South Africa was opening the tournament on Friday afternoon with a game against Mexico. Armored Personnel Carriers were seen on the streets, with armed troops watching traffic and stopping cars.
Johannesburg police spokeswoman Edna Mamonyane said the driver of the car involved in the one-car accident, a male, had been arrested and charged with drunk-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.”
The Nelson Mandela Foundation rejected media reports that the former president’s ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was in the car, although her family said she was treated in hospital for shock.
“She was not in the car,” foundation spokesman Sello Hatang told The Associated Press.
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Hatang asked that the Mandela family be given space to mourn.
Mandela has largely retired from public life although as of Thursday it had been anticipated he would make a brief appearance at Soccer City on Friday, depending on his health and the weather conditions.
France, the losing finalist in Germany four years ago, was playing two-time champion Uruguay in the other Group A match later Friday in Cape Town.
In Rustenburg, England and the United States were holding official practice sessions Friday about 24 hours ahead of their opening match.
Diego Maradona’s Argentina squad was holding its final practice session at Ellis Park ahead of its opening Group B match on Saturday against Nigeria.
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