Mandela Misses WC Opener After Relative, 13, Killed

Leader's great grand-daughter died in car crash in Johannesburg; South Africa draws against Mexico

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    People carrying a poster of South African former president Nelson Mandela, head to Soccer City stadium in Soweto, suburban Johannesburg, for the opening of the 2010 World Cup on June 11, 2010. Africa's first World Cup kicks off today with hosts South Africa taking on Mexico at Soweto's showpiece Soccer City venue in front of 95,000 spectators, followed by France and Uruguay in Cape Town. AFP PHOTO/VALERY HACHE (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

    A sad pall was cast over the World Cup kick-off today when it was confirmed that former South African President Nelson Mandela wouldn't be attending the opening match after his great grand-daughter was killed in a car crash.

    The Nelson Mandela Foundation said the 91-year-old national hero, who was a key player in bringing the tournament to South Africa, learned of the 13-year-old's death Friday morning.

    "It would therefore be inappropriate for him to personally attend the 2010 FIFA World Cup opening celebrations," the Foundation said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. A spokesman said Mandela would be at the game in spirit.

    Zenani Mandela, 13, was killed Thursday night when a car she was traveling in was involved in an accident in Johannesburg. Tragically, she was returning home from the star-studded World Cup Kick-Off concert.

    Police said the driver of the car has been arrested and charged with drunk-driving. He may also face culpable homicide charges.

    "The Metro police found that he was drunk," Johannesburg police spokeswoman Edna Mamonyane told the AP. "He lost control of the vehicle and it collided with a barricade."

    Zenani was a grand-daughter of Zindzi Mandela, Nelson Mandela and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's daughter.

    Still, the excitement for the World Cup was palpable as fans flooded the capital city for the opening match between South Africa and Mexico. Their exuberance was matched by the South African players who exceeded expections and played to a 1-1 draw with the heavily favored Mexican team.

    Before the game, FIFA president Joseph Blatter joined South African president Jacob Zuma to inaugurate the event on the field of Soccer City stadium where both men paid tribute to Mandela and his loss.

    "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," Zuma said.

    Blatter congratulated South Africa for putting on the tournament while recognizing Mandela's role.

    "The dream has come true," he said. "The spirit of Mandela is here."

    Mandela's attendance was always in question due to his frail health but there was a hope among fans and organizers that he would make a brief appearance at the opening game.

    The 32-team tournament will run through July 11th. The United States will begin their campaign on Saturday against highly ranked England.