It was supposed to be one of his greatest moments of joy. Instead, it turned out to be a day of sorrow for former South African President Nelson Mandela as he learned of his great-granddaughter’s death on the eve of Opening Day of the 2010 World Cup.
Mandela was initially expected to appear at the first match between South Africa and Mexico on June 11, to celebrate his country’s triumph of hosting the World Cup on the African continent for the first time ever. But the 91-year-old former Nobel Peace Prize winner instead stayed at home to mourn with his family in Northern Johannesburg after 13-year-old Zenani Mandela died in a fatal one-car accident on the way back from a concert in Soweto on June 10.
According to reports, Johannesburg Police say the male driver of the car was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol; he may also be charged with homicide.
“The Metro police found that he was drunk,” Johannesburg Metro police spokeswoman Edna Mamonyane said, according to the Associated Press. “He lost control of the vehicle and it collided with a barricade.”
The AP reported that the driver was released from Johannesburg police Friday after a preliminary hearing was postponed for further investigation.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation told the media that Zenani’s tragic death “made it inappropriate” for the South African icon to attend the opening day ceremony.
“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 foundation said, according to the AP. “Mr. Mandela will be there with you in spirit today.”
Mandela, 91, is perhaps South Africa’s most famous figure, a social rights activist who became the county’s first Black president after serving 27 years in prison. He served for only one term before devoting his life to international causes, including protests against the AIDS epidemic.