Nelson Mandela with his
great-granddaughter Zenani Mandela
Photo from Nelson Mandela Foundation
Africa's first World Cup, and South Africa's well-loved human rights activist and icon Nelson Mandela did not attend the opening ceremonies, and the reason is heartbreaking.
Nelson Mandela instead spent the day with his family, mourning the loss of his 13-year-old great-granddaughter Zenani who was killed in a car crash while heading home after a concert in Soweto.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation released the following statement earlier today:
"Nelson Mandela this morning learned of the tragic death of his great-granddaughter, Zenani Mandela, in a car accident. It would therefore be inappropriate for him to personally attend the 2010 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.
"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. Madiba will be there with you in spirit today."
Offering his condolences for Mandela's loss, President Jacob Zuma said, "The nation shares your loss and mourns with you, especially on the day on which our dreams and hopes come alive in the opening of the first FIFA World Cup on African soil."
The driver of the car has been arrested and charged with drunk driving. He could also face homicide charges.
This is just another tragic blow for Mandela, now age 91, who lost his oldest son Madiba Thembekile in a car crash in 1969. Since he was then serving a life sentence in prison, Mandela was not allowed to attend his son's funeral. In his autobiography, Mandela wrote, "I do not have words to express the sorrow, or the loss I felt. It left a hole in my heart that can never be filled."
Then in 2005, his younger son Makgatho Mandela died of AIDS-related complications.
Our hearts go out to Nelson Mandela, Zenani's parents, and the rest of the family on this very sad day in Africa, one that should have been filled with joy. Zenani was one of Mandela's nine great-grandchildren. You may view a video of Nelson Mandela with his great-granddaughter Zenani Mandela.