JOHANNESBURG — Heartbreak intruded on the opening day of the soccer World Cup when Nelson Mandela’s 13-year-old great-granddaughter Zenani was killed in an auto accident here early on Friday. In response, Mr. Mandela canceled a much-heralded appearance at a tournament depicted as a triumphant showcase for his country and his continent.
Zenani Mandela was returning home from the event’s Thursday night kickoff concert in Soweto, an extravaganza that included stars like Alicia Keys and Shakira that was meant to launch the contest on a joyous note. At its conclusion, the sky lit up with fireworks as happy attendees made way to their parked vehicles.
According to police, Zenani died in a one-car accident on a Johannesburg highway. The man behind the wheel, who has yet to be named, was accused of drunk driving and may also be charged with culpable homicide, the police said.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation issued a statement saying the former president would now be unable to attend the opening ceremonies of the tournament.
The World Cup is being played in Africa for the first time, and the presence of Mr. Mandela, the frail, 91-year-old liberation hero, was expected to be an emotional highpoint to one of South Africa’s proudest days.
“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 statement read.
“We continue to believe the 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,” the statement said, using a title from the Xhosa language by which Mr. Mandela is widely known.
Details of the accident remain incomplete. The Associated Press quoted a police spokeswoman, Edna Mamonyane, saying the driver was found to be drunk: “He lost control of the vehicle and it collided with a barricade.”
Zenani had turned 13 on Wednesday. She is the grandchild of Nelson Mandela’s daughter Zindzi.