Chiefs triumph in season overshadowed by tragedy

Harare-  Benni McCarthy, a former South African football international who won the Uefa Champions League with Porto almost a decade ago, and one of the continent’s best footballers of his generation, lived to tell his grim tale after he was robbed, at gunpoint, in one of Johannesburg’s glamourous areas recently.

Meyiwa, his former teammate at Orlando Pirates, was not so lucky and was killed, in what police said was a botched robbery, in October last year, in an incident that didn’t only bring into focus, the shattering reality of the crime rate in South Africa, but made headlines around a shocked world.

That Meyiwa was the Bafana Bafana captain at the time of his death, a rising star in the game who had led his country with distinction in the national team’s revival under the guidance of coach Shakes Mashaba, united South Africa in mourning an athlete killed at the peak of his athletic powers.

“We mourn the death of this young footballer and team leader whose life has been taken away at the prime of his career,” President Jacob Zuma said.

“The law enforcement authorities must leave no stone unturned in finding his killers and bring them to justice. Words cannot express the nation’s shock at this loss.”

Fikile Mbalula, the South Africa Sports Minister, said his nation had been robbed of an icon who, with time, would have turned himself into a legend.

“The death of Senzo Meyiwa has robbed this country of an icon and a legend in the making,” said Mbalula.

Such was the impact of Meyiwa’s death, on the game in South Africa, the Soweto Derby – the biggest league game in that country between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs – had to be postponed as a nation grieved for one of its finest football sons.

His funeral was broadcast live on all the television stations in South Africa as an entire nation came to a virtual halt, as it bade farewell to a footballer whose brilliance on the field, and tragic death, overwhelmed its emotions.

Meyiwa’s death was felt even in the corridors of FIFA with the president of the world football governing body, Sepp Blatter, being touched by the tragedy.

“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 said in a statement.

“My heart goes out to his friends and family for the terrible loss of his young life.

“Senzo will be sadly missed by his team-mates and fans of both Orlando Pirates and the South African national team, which he recently captained with great success in their latest qualifying matches. 

Please express my most heartfelt sympathy to all of Senzo’s loved ones and let them know that our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.”

The curtain comes down this weekend, as Africa’s richest football league takes another break, with a Nedbank Cup final battle between Mamelodi Sundowns and Ajax Cape Town bringing an end to a season blighted by tragedy.

The final game comes exactly a week after Chiefs’ celebrations, for winning a second league title in three years were marred by the death of one of their fans, shot and killed in a shooting incident inside the stadium, after supporters poured onto the pitch as they celebrated the triumph.

“Our condolences from the entire Kaizer Chiefs Family to the family of the deceased,” Chiefs coach, Stuart Baxter, said on the club’s official website.

According to Port Elizabeth newspaper The Herald, police spokesperson Captain Johan Rheeder has confirmed that there was an altercation between a police officer and a supporter during the pitch invasion.

“The man tried to take the policeman’s gun and during the scuffle the gun went off and the person was shot,” Rheeder told The Herald.

The stadium’s management said the Chiefs fan was killed after an altercation with the police.

“The ratio of security guards were well within the accepted norm for Nelson Mandela Bay rugby and soccer matches,” Chantal du Pisani, chief executive of Access Management, who manage the stadium, said in a statement.

“The Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium is committed to creating a safe and secure environment for visitors and spectators alike.

“Sadly, we have to announce that for the first time in the history of the stadium, a spectator died during the Premier Soccer League match between Kaizer Chiefs and Chippa United of 9 May 2015.

“The fan was killed following an unfortunate altercation with a police official.

“We maintained sufficient security to look after the safety of crowd. All steps, policies and procedures were followed prior, during and after the match to ensure the safety of fans.

“Despite tight security and crowd control efforts, the euphoric spectator breached the stadium moat and bypassed security officials. Police immediately intervened.

“We have conveyed our condolences to the family, and are working closely with officials in this instance.”

Last month, South African football lost one of its stars when 30-year-old forward Henyekane, who played for Bafana Bafana, perished in a horrific car crash.

Images of the car, reduced to a shell during the accident, devastated his teammates at modest South African Premiership side, Free State Stars, who had a tough relegation battle on their hands.

To their credit, the Stars bounced back, probably reinvigorated by the tragedy, to take 16 out of a possible 18 points in their last six matches to finish the season in ninth place.

May 2015
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