Mandela's great-granddaughter killed after World Cup concert

Nelson Mandela's 13-year-old great-granddaughter was killed in a car crash on the way home from a concert in Soweto on the eve of the World Cup, his office said on Friday.
By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 11, 2010; 12:33 PM

JOHANNESBURG -- Nelson Mandela's 13-year-old great-granddaughter died in a car accident early Friday on the way home from a World Cup concert, injecting sorrow and heartbreak into one of the most boisterous celebrations in South Africa's history.

The death prompted a frail 91-year-old Mandela to cancel his much-anticipated appearance at Friday's World Cup opening ceremony and first match pitting South Africa against Mexico. Many here believe that hosting the World Cup is the nation's biggest event since the historic all-race elections of 1994 that brought an end to white rule. And having Mandela attend the inauguration ceremony, many hoped, would showcase how far South Africa has progressed since the end of apartheid.

Zenani Mandela, who turned 13 on Wednesday, was killed after the concert in Soweto, which was headlined by stars such as Shakira, the Black Eyed Peas and Alicia Keys and was designed to kick off the World Cup on a joyous and unforgettable note. South African police said she was involved in a one-car accident. While details were still unclear, police said it appeared that the man behind the wheel was drunk and that he could face homicide charges.

The Associated Press quoted police spokeswoman Edna Mamonyane as saying the man had been arrested and charged with drunk driving. "He lost control of the vehicle, and it collided with a barricade," Mamonyane said.

In a statement, the Nelson Mandela Foundation said it would be "inappropriate" for Mandela to attend the 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," the statement said.

"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," the foundation said, adding that Mandela "will be there with you in spirit today."

Zenani Mandela was the eldest child of Zoleka Seakamela and one of the elder Mandela's nine great-grandchildren. Zenani's grandmother is Nelson Mandela's daughter Zindzi, one of his two daughters with former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

Local reports initially said that Winnie Mandela, who also played a prominent role in the struggle against apartheid, had also been in the car, but those reports were later denied. The South African Press Association, quoting a family spokesman, reported that Winnie was hospitalized for shock after hearing the news of her great-granddaughter's death.

Zenani's death was the latest tragedy in Nelson Mandela's life. In 1969, his eldest child died in an auto accident. His second child lived for only nine months, and a third child succumbed to an AIDS-related illness.

Even before the death, it was unclear whether Nelson Mandela was well enough to attend the opening ceremonies. He played a central role in bringing the world's most watched sporting event to South Africa, arguing before the World Cup bidding committee in 2004 that it would be a fitting tribute for the nation to be awarded the event a decade after apartheid.

On Friday morning, in front of South African political and business leaders, Vice President Biden expressed his condolences to Mandela and his family.

"I know from personal experience that the most grievous loss is the loss of a child," said Biden, his voice low and tinged with emotion. "Nothing, nothing rivals this."

Biden's first wife and 1-year-old daughter were killed in a car accident in 1972, shortly after he was first elected as a U.S. senator.

"The entire football family mourns with you and your family, and today we stand by your side," Joseph Blatter, the president of soccer's governing body FIFA, wrote to Mandela in an open letter published on the FIFA's Web site.

"It goes without saying that we fully understand that you cannot be with us at the opening ceremony and match later today," it said. "You will, however, be with us in spirit, for which we are incredibly grateful."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company