, JOHANNESBURG, Jun 17 – South Africa\’s World Cup celebration took a sombre turn on Thursday as Nelson Mandela attended the funeral of his great-granddaughter, who was killed in a car crash on the eve of the tournament.
South Africa paused from its World Cup festivities to mourn with the family, as hundreds gathered at 13-year-old Zenani Mandela\’s school for the public funeral following a private burial.
Two screens in the front of the chapel showed pictures of Zenani set to the song "Lean on Me", in a service that also included tributes from school friends and family and a performance by the Soweto gospel choir.
At 91, the increasingly frail Mandela rarely appears in public. He cancelled a scheduled appearance at the opening ceremony of the World Cup in Johannesburg\’s Soccer City stadium Friday after learning of the accident.
Zenani was killed when her car flipped over on a central Johannesburg highway while returning from a World Cup concert the night before the kick-off.
The driver, 23-year-old Sizwe Mankazana, was close to the family but now faces charges of drunk driving and culpable homicide.
Zenani died just two days after her 13th birthday, casting a shadow over the World Cup opening as the family mourned.
Her great-grandmother, 73-year-old anti-apartheid icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, was so devastated upon hearing the news that she was briefly taken to hospital for treatment of shock.
The public was invited to grieve with the family in the chapel at St Stithian\’s College, the elite Methodist school north of Johannesburg where Zenani was in the sixth grade and a member of the choir.
Zenani was the daughter of Zoleka Mandela-Seakamela and Casey Moyo, and her grandmother is Zindzi Mandela, the former president\’s daughter.
The driver of the car is the son of Zwelakhe Mankazana, the partner of Zindzi\’s sister Zenani Mandela-Dlamini.
He had been expected in court last Friday, but his case was put off until July 26 – two weeks after the World Cup ends – to allow police further time to investigate.
"I deeply regret the loss of our little Zeni. I ask that your thoughts and prayers be with her family and friends during this very difficult time," Mankazana said in a statement.
Nelson Mandela remains beloved in South Africa for leading the fight against the white-minority apartheid government, a struggle that kept him in prison for 27 years before his election in 1994 as the country\’s first black president.
His private life has been marked by a long history of heartache.
One daughter died as an infant. An adult son died in a car accident while Mandela was in prison, and another died of an AIDS-related illness in 2005.
The damper on South Africa\’s World Cup festivities was also heightened by national side Bafana Bafana\’s 3-0 loss to Uruguay on Thursday night in its second match of the tournament.
The loss heightened fears that South Africa would become the first World Cup host country in tournament history not to make it out of the first round.
The South African media reacted to the defeat with disappointment and concern over the team\’s hopes to make the tournament\’s second round.
"Bafana dream on knife-edge," read The Star newspaper\’s banner headline.
"Uruguay victory leaves nation praying," it said.
The Citizen said simply, "Eish, Bafana!" – an expression of exasperation commonly heard in South Africa.