A pirate murdered in his prime


Harare – The cold-blooded murder of Bafana Bafana captain Senzo Meyiwa has thrust South Africa’s violent side back into the international limelight, just four years after the country’s profile, around the globe, was boosted by its successful hosting of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

Meyiwa’s death, after being shot by intruders at a house in Vosloorus, on the east of Johannesburg on the night of October 26, came exactly a week after South Africa closed a painful chapter, in its history, when Paralympic sprinter, Oscar Pistorious, was jailed for five years for the murder of his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Although South Africa’s murder rate has, officially, been dropping, the Rainbow Nation remains one of the world’s most violent nations, and there were more than 17 000 murders recorded last year and at 31 murders, per 100 000 people, it is seven times the rate in the United States.

Last year, the Los Angeles Times said violent crime in South Africa was on the rise again.

“South Africa’s high walls, electric fences and lurid headlines are all part of the country’s obsession with violent crime. But the release of national crime statistics is an annual ritual that sparks anxiety like little else,” the LA Times noted, exactly a year ago.

“The 2012-13 statistics released Thursday are the worst in a decade, analysts said. The figures show increases in the crimes South Africans fear most: murder; attempted murder; violent, armed house robbery; and carjacking.”

Meyiwa, the 27-year-old Orlando Pirates goalkeeper, was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital, having been shot once after two intruders, with South African sports minister, Fikile Mbalula saying that those who took his life “deserved a place in hell.”

His death, which was felt around the football fraternity with Fifa president Sepp Blatter, Spanish captain Iker Casillas and former England skipper Steve Gerrard both offering their condolences, came at a time when Meyiwa had been given the role to captain his national team as Bafana Bafana sought a way back into the light after years of staggering in the darkness.

“On behalf of the international football community I would like to express my deepest sorrow and anguish at the senseless killing of South Africa and Orlando Pirates goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa last night,” Blatter told the official Fifa website, Fifa.com.

“My heart goes out to his friends and family for the terrible loss of his young life. Senzo will be sadly missed by his teammates and fans of both Orlando Pirates and the South African national team, which he recently captained with great success in their latest qualifying matches.”

Given the responsibility to lead Bafana Bafana by new coach Shakes Mashaba, Meyiwa thrived in his new role and led his national team with distinction, helping the South Africans power to the top of their group in the qualifiers for the 2015 Nations Cup finals, with no goal conceded in four games.

Mashaba could not hold the tears, at a media conference on October 27, as he recalled the goalkeeper that he turned into a national leader.

“Without a doubt, as the technical team of Bafana, his name always came first (on the team sheet),” said Mashaba.

“A good guy like Senzo will never just vanish. His spirit will live forever. Senzo was not just a goalkeeper. He was a peacemaker. That’s the biggest thing I remember about him.”

Ironically, Mashaba was the Bafana Bafana coach when another rising Orlando Pirates star, Lesley Manyathela met his tragic death, 11 years ago, after he died instantly in a car accident, just hours after scoring for the Bucs in a cup tie, in another death that shook the southern African nation.

Manyathela, then just 21 and having completed trials at French champions Lyon that week, died instantly after his car overturned near his parents’ home on Musina. Nicknamed “Slow Poison”, Manyathela won two league titles in three years with Pirates and his 40 goals, in 63 League and Cup games in South Africa at a very young age, made the country take notice of this precocious talent and his tragic death united a mourning Rainbow Nation.

Manyathela had nine Bafana Bafana caps, at the time of his death, and provided hope for his nation for goals while Meyiwa, who had six caps, was just starting a belated journey with the senior national team.

But, at 27, he still had a number of years, in international football, ahead of him because goalkeepers can last longer in the game than the outfield players.

South African football chiefs immortalized Manyathela’s contribution to football in their country by naming the Golden Boot award, given to the top-scorer in the country’s Premier Soccer League, it after him.Four years later, disaster struck the Pirates family when another rising star of South African football, Gift Leremi, died in another car crash.

But while these two deaths were accidents, it’s Meyiwa’s killing that has thrust South Africa’s violence back into the international spotlight.

“That’s how blind our society has become,” Mbalula said. “We are shameless.

“He was not tall but between the posts, he was the tallest. South African soccer is poorer without Senzo, there is no grave big enough to bury this African giant,” Mbalula said.

November 2014
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