Zenani Mandela at the Nelson Mandela Foundation posing with a Mandela puppet in May, 2009
June 17, 2010 – Friends and family gathered at St Stithians College Chapel in Johannesburg today to mourn the death of Zenani Mandela, the great-granddaughter of Nelson Mandela.
Thirteen-year-old Zenani was killed in a car accident in the early hours of June 11, 2010, after attending the 2010 FIFA World Cup Kick-off Concert in Orlando, Soweto.
The small brick chapel was filled with mourners, including Mr Mandela and his wife, Graça Machel, Zenani’s great-grandmother, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and grandmother, Zindzi Mandela. Several groups of Zenani’s school friends turned out in their school uniforms – navy blue blazers and plaid skirts.
When the pews were filled, mourners sat along the wall of the chapel, under the stained glass windows, while others took seats on plastic chairs in the courtyard.
Some mourners placed baskets of flowers around the altar, which was draped in purple cloth.
A blue-tinted picture of Zenani’s face, superimposed with floating hearts, appeared on the service programme, which read: “In loving memory of Zenani Zanethemba Nomasonto Mandela. For an angel who passed too soon.”
The service began with a slideshow of pictures of Zenani’s life, including several of her and Mr Mandela smiling together.
After a performance by the choir, her uncle, Prince Zinhle Dlamini, told mourners how, two days before the accident, Zenani had met Portuguese football star Cristiano Ronaldo for her 13th birthday.
“Ronaldo is here because it’s my birthday and he doesn’t even know who I am,” Dlamini remembered her saying. “My gift from him was a kiss and two signed T-shirts of Real Madrid.”
“She was a precious little girl who shined bright for everyone to see,” he said, choking up.
Zenani’s friends and family remembered her love of music – the Grade 6 St Stithians learner was a member of the school choir, the marimba club and the drumming band. She also played the saxophone and the piano.
Her music teacher, Marlese Calitz, said music was an “outstanding feature” of Zenani’s life. “She was truly happy while making music with her friends.”
In tribute, a DVD showed her school band playing Somewhere Out There, and four friends sang for her in front of the altar.
South African musician Bobo Seritsane also took to the podium in honour of her. “There are certain things that I learned from Zenani,” he said, “things like humility, things like living life passionately.”
International music star John Legend, who performed at the concert before Zenani’s death, and Naomi Campbell, who thought of Zenani as a god-daughter, sent their condolences. “I was truly blessed to have been able to say that we walked and laughed and got to play dress-up,” the supermodel said in a video message. “She will remain in my heart forever.”
In a message read by family friend Evans Mandowa, Zenani’s father, Casey Moyo, said: “She lived an adventurous life and was always full of energy and was such a bundle of joy. I would do anything just to see Zeni one more time, just so I can say to her, ‘I love you.’”
Refiloe Seakemela, a relative, was overcome with emotion while reading a message from Zenani’s mother, Zoleka Mandela.
“I should have let you sleep longer when you told me you were tired,” Seakemela read. “I should have let you wear all the make-up in the world.
“I should have given you more money, more hugs, more kisses, and I should have whispered more in your ear ‘I love you.’
“If I did all this would you come back to me, even if it was only for a few seconds? I want to hold you in my arms one last time.”
The memorial service was preceded by a private burial.
To view the photo gallery click here.