As we meet for the first time in 2016, I’d like to say compliments to you and yours. I hope the festive season was good you, but sadly, we know that things do not always work out the way we planned.
On the 12th of January, Transport Minister Dipuo Peters released the figures for road fatalities in our country during the festive season. She said from the 1st of December 2015 to the 11th of January 2016, 1 755 people lost their lives through road carnages. A year ago, figures of 1 535 over the same period were released. This means this past December saw an increase of 14% of our people that died in a period where families are supposed to be celebrating.
It is sad that it is only when someone of relative prominence becomes a victim of the mess on our roads, we start to take this so seriously. On Sunday morning we woke up to the tragic news that Mondli Cele, Maritzburg United midfielder, had passed on after being involved in a car crash. Naturally, we were all shocked. More so because just a few hours prior, Cele had scored the opening goal of his side’s 3-3 draw with Orlando Pirates. When I woke up and heard the news, I could not help but think ‘not again’. Not another footballer who was definitely set to make headlines in the morning, just not the kind he made.
I suddenly remembered how all the footballers we’ve lost in that manner were finally coming into the spotlight when suddenly they left this world prematurely. Just the other day we were mourning the death of Ajax Cape Town’s Cecil Lolo. His passing came at a time when he was finally living up to his potential. We were even making noise about how he had influenced the MTN8 final against Kaizer Chiefs, which Ajax won 1-0. He was a definite contender for a place in the Bafana Bafana squad, but never lived to see the day he would get that call-up.
Earlier that year, we also lost one Richard Henyekane pass on. At the time of his death, Henyekane was playing for Free State Stars. This is a player who, despite his potential, had never reached his projected heights. Perhaps his best days were at Golden Arrows, where he once won the Absa Premiership’s top goal scorer. His move to Mamelodi Sundowns did not bear the desired fruit and Ea Lla Koto was supposed to be where he revived his career. Sadly, he too never got to see his glory days.
When Gordon Igesund was appointed Bafana Bafana coach in 2012, his first call-up for national duty was appointing Thomas Madigage as his assistant. Tommy had payed his dues as an assistant to Gavin Hunt during a very successful period at SuperSport United, so few would have objected to his inclusion in the national team. In fact, we were all happy that he was finally blossoming. When I woke up one morning and heard about his passing I just went numb. I had had an opportunity to speak to him just after that appointment. What a nice guy he was. We could have definitely used his wisdom in the national team.
One day in September 2007, the country stood still at the news of the tragic passing of Gift Leremi. This was a genuine loss to our football. A footballer who lived up to his name; he was truly gifted. It was soon after he left Orlando Pirates for Mamelodi Sundowns. He was just 27, and he was in the prime of his career. When we played at the 2010 World Cup, I could not help but think he would have fitted in perfectly, and perhaps our team would have been built around him. But before all that could happen, he too was swallowed by our roads.
In 2003, Lesley Manyathela’s death stunned everyone. Another player who was so talented. We struggle with goalscorers today, but that man was genuine quality. And he was fast becoming the darling of the Pirates faithful. It is no wonder that the top goalscorer award went on to be named the Lesley Manyathela golden boot. But this was an honour he himself never enjoyed.
All these guys mentioned here looked destined for greater things, and just when it looked like their big break was on the horizon, they were taken from us when we least expected. The reality though, is that this is all but a drop in the ocean. There are just too many people who just never reach their destination because our roads are just not safe.
Yes, the government has a lot to do to make sure it is safer out there, but we also have to play our part. Drinking and driving is the most obviously prohibitive thing, and although it’s a message that’s been preached for ages, we are still guilty of it all too often. With the era of technology comes the very busy life and we live lives on social media, email, and text messages. We cannot do this while we drive. It is dangerous. The last one that most people do not even think about, is driving while you are tired. This is probably even more dangerous than drunk driving because you can just find yourself sleeping.
The phrase “‘better late than never” should be everyday consciousness. It is better to get there late than to never get there while trying to get there early. May all their souls rest in perfect peace. Arrive Alive.