The wait is over. In a few hours time, the first World Cup on African soil kicks off in South Africa but the availability of former president Nelson Mandela at the opening ceremony is now in doubt.
Mandela’s 13 year old great granddaughter was on early Friday morning killed in a car crash while returning from the Soccer World Cup kick-off concert in Soweto.
13-year-old Zenani Mandela was travelling with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (Mandela’s former wife) when their car overturned outside the Johannesburg city centre. The driver was arrested and police were investigating a case of culpable homicide, reports say.
As the news broke, the Nelson Mandela Foundation had announced that the 91 year old anti-apartheid icon would attend, though for just 15 minutes as his family are worried about the state of his health.
Organisers said VIPs at Friday’s opening match would include US Vice-President Joe Biden, UN chief Ban Ki-moon and Mexican President Felipe Calderon. About 20 African heads of state will also be present, including Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe who arrived in Johannesburg with his wife Grace on Thursday.
South Africa has had to fend off claims that its high crime, lack of infrastructure and rudimentary public transport rendered it an unsuitable choice. But, work at the 10 host stadiums finished on time while World Cup infrastructure projects are up and running, including Africa’s first high-speed rail link.
However, a labour dispute by pubic sector workers was looming after deadlocked salary talks.
This is the 19th staging of the showpiece event and will be the first time it has taken place in the continent of Africa. The choice of South Africa which was subjected to an international sporting and cultural boycott during the apartheid years has been hailed by African countries, with Mandela playing a pivotal role in helping South Africa secure the rights to host the games.
Meanwhile, Bafana Bafana head coach Carlos Alberto Parreira has promised Mexico “hell” when the two countries clash in the opening match. “It will be war. We respect Mexico but we are not afraid. We want to deliver and we gonna give hell to any team that will play against us on the ground, including today’s match,” he is quoted saying.
“I have seen many World Cups as coach and working for Fifa and the opening game from my experience is a lot of pressure. The opening game is always the tough game and it is intimidating for both teams, because the whole world is watching you,” he added.
Update: The Mandela foundation has announced that Nelson Mandela would not attend Friday’s World Cup opening ceremony in Johannesburg.