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Mourning Mandela joins World Cup 'in spirit'

Andrew Harding | 14:04 UK time, Thursday, 24 June 2010

Nelson Mandela will not be attending any matches during the World Cup, according to his grandson Chief Mandla Mandela.

mandla595afp.jpgThe 91-year-old former president is still in mourning for his 13-year-old great-granddaughter, Zenani, who was killed in a car accident on the eve of the World Cup tournament on 10 June.

"It's likely to be three months of mourning," said Mandla Mandela - a tall, imposing man whose gravel voice carries more than an echo of his grandfather.

"It depends on Zenani's mother, but we are having a family ritual on Sunday to fix the time. We are also cautious about [Mandela's] health - we wouldn't want to expose him to the winter cold. The family must play a protective role."

Thirty-six year old Mandla - also known as Chief Zwelivelile - is an MP from the ruling ANC and succeeded his grandfather as chief of the traditional council in Mvezo, the poor rural village where Nelson Mandela was born. Critics have accused him of seeking to exploit his grandfather's name.

Mr Mandela was in Port Elizabeth for last night's England-Slovenia match, for which 22 children from Mvezo were chosen to accompany the players onto the pitch.

He was also promoting an exhibition of World Cup-themed paintings, each signed by Nelson Mandela, which he is hoping to auction in order to raise funds for development projects in Mvezo. He is travelling to Paris next week with the same exhibition.

He told me of his grandfather's regret that he could not attend the World Cup opening ceremony as planned, but said he'd promised to be at the tournament "in spirit." The former president played a key role in securing the World Cup for South Africa.

His grandson said the focus "has always been about hosting, not playing" in the tournament, and he praised the impact it had already had on the country, and on its reputation abroad.

"People have come to discover a softer Africa," he said, then pointed to a South African flag flying upside down in the hotel lobby. "Something has changed here. We are becoming more patriotic. People finally want to be identified with the national flag, and they now understand how it should hang - that's the wrong side up. My grandfather was forever utilising sport for nation-building and this World Cup will forever be remembered as the moment we all rallied around the team."


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