Mandela to miss opening game
|THE ASSOCIATED PRESS|
Nelson Mandela is seen with his great granddaughter, Zenani, in this 2009 file photo. Zenani was killed in a car accident outside Johannesburg June 11, 2010, just before the kick-off of the World Cup. Also pictured are, from left, Thembela and Mbuso Mandela.
The first storm cloud on South Africa's shining day arrived this morning when it was announced that Nelson Mandela will not attend the opening match against Mexico.
Mandela's 13-year-old great-granddaughter, Zenani, was killed in a car accident following the magnificent World Cup concert held in Soweto on Thursday night. The unidentified driver of the car has been charged with drunk-driving after ploughing into a barricade.
The Mandela Foundation has denied early reports that the former president's first wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, was in the car at the time. The confusion may have been caused because Madikizela-Mandela was reportedly treated in hospital for shock after learning the news.
While the mood around Soccer City, where the match will kick off at 4 p.m. local time, remains high, Mandela's planned absence will create a pall here. Many South Africans seemed just as excited to see their 91-year-old idol as the match itself. Mandela, who has slowed perceptibly in recent years, rarely appears in public any more.
However, he remains an enormous part of South African life. On our first day here, someone mentioned to us that Mandela lives in the upscale Jo'burg neighbourhood of Houghton, close to our home base.
A day later, as we drove to pick up our credentials, we passed a 'Houghton' sign. I said to our cab driver, "Isn't this where Mandela lives?"
Suddenly, we were u-turning down one of the sidestreets. The cabbie could not continue our journey until we'd paid a visit. Going well out of his way - and we'd agreed a flat fare instead of going by the metre - he drove us past the sprawling villa.
You can't see much. Like every upscale house here, the place is surrounded by ten-foot high stucco walls. But it took up the better part of a block. And there was no visible security presence outside.
"This is Madiba's house," the cabbie said proudly, waving his hand out the window. Another u-turn and we were off again.
Sadly for all of us here today, that's the closest we are likely to get to one of the world's first citizens. Here's hoping that after a period of understandable mourning, Mandela is fit and ready to meet his country again at a game later in the tournament.