A day of joy for his people, a day of grief for Mandela

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A day of national celebration became one of private grief for the Mandela family yesterday following the death of 13-year-old Zenani Mandela, who was killed on her way home from a World Cup concert in Johannesburg.

Her great-grandfather, Nelson Mandela, cancelled plans to make an appearance at yesterday's opening ceremony. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said the euphoria surrounding the first football World Cup to be staged in Africa had been marred by the accident. "It's put a dampener on things," he said. "Our hearts go out to the family. It's a family that has suffered a great deal."

The teenager was in an accident involving one car, according to police. The driver has been arrested on suspicion of drink driving.

A spokesman for the World Cup's local organising committee said the former president had learnt of the death of one of his nine great-grandchildren yesterday morning. "It would therefore be inappropriate for him to personally attend the Fifa World Cup opening celebrations," he said. "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."

For the last fortnight there has been intense speculation over whether the Nobel prize winner, who is revered at home and abroad, would attend the opening ceremony.

Although he retired from public life after his 90th birthday, there have still been intense demands placed on him to appear at major national events and the "Madiba magic" – coined after Mandela's clan name – was desperately wanted at what was seen by many here as South Africa's "coming-out" party.

Mr Mandela, 91, had been due to play some part in yesterday's opening ceremony despite family concerns over his frail health. Organisers had been keen to involve him, while family members were unhappy at the idea of the anti-apartheid icon sitting in freezing temperatures for the duration of the host's match against Mexico.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation said in a statement: "The family has asked for privacy as they mourn this tragedy. We continue to believe that the World Cup is a momentous and historic occasion for South Africa and the continent and we are certain it will be a huge success. Madiba will be there with you in spirit today."

The untimely death added a sombre note to what was otherwise a day of raucous celebrations in South Africa with thousands of fans wearing green and gold and cars flying the national flag.

Archbishop Tutu – the star turn at Thursday night's kick-off concert – paid rich tribute to Mr Mandela as the "man without whom this would not have happened" and said that the World Cup had already been a surprising success.

"I would not have predicted how people would have been galvanised," he said yesterday. "God is good, God is on our side, God is on the side of all of us.

"It's what it's done to boost our morale. To say to us: 'Yes, you've had rough times, you've still got Aids, you've still got poverty, you've got this, you've got the other, but just look at what you can achieve'."

South Africa's first democratic president has been married three times. He lost one of his sons, Thembi, from his first marriage in a car crash while he was being held in the notorious prison on Robben Island, off Cape Town. His other son, Makgatho, by his first wife, Evelyn Ntoko Mase, died of Aids in 2005 prompting Mr Mandela to publicly change his stance on HIV.

After estrangement from his second wife, Winnie Madikizela, with whom he had two daughters, he married again at the age of 80 to Graca Machel, the widow of the Mozambican president Samora Machel, who had been an ally of Mr Mandela's ANC party.