RIP ‘Bhakaniya’

First things first, I would like to join the entire country and the sporting fraternity in mourning and send my most heartfelt condolences to the Meyiwa family for the tragic loss of their son, and also the son of football, Senzo Meyiwa.  I learnt with regret of this terrible news on Sunday evening as I had just got home from work, and as you can imagine, was stunned after making a few calls to confirm the story.  I did not know Senzo Meyiwa personally, but as a man who works in football and who deals with players almost on a weekly basis, I knew him from a couple of interviews I had done with him and of course his talent on the field.

When Senzo had just come into the first team at Orlando Pirates, he received a lot of criticism from all corners; media and fans alike.  He was definitely not a popular one from the stands, having conceded a few goals due to some goalkeeping blunders.  This however, did not deter the young man who was then in his early 20s.

He continued to patiently work hard and waited for his chance while Moeneeb Josephs was the preferred man between the sticks at the Buccaneers.  When Josephs left, Senzo grabbed his chance with both hands and never looked back.  I remember last season when the Sea Robbers had their run in the CAF Champions’ League.

Nobody gave him a chance against the feared teams from other African countries.  We all thought Pirates would easily be knocked out of the competition and soon forget about it.  To our surprise, Meyiwa produced some outstanding performances away from home, even saving penalties at some point.

It is hard to argue that Pirates’ run in that tournament all the way to the final cannot be credited to him.  He was a crucial member of that team to a point where he became hard to ignore for even the national team selectors.   The Umlazi-born goalminder cemented his place in the team’s starting line-up to the extent that he played over 50 games at club level that season.

Only Oupa Manyisa played more games than him.  The team was playing incredible football in the 2012/13 season.  So much so that they played every game possible in a single season by virtue of going to the final of every cup competition available to them.

Meyiwa was key in this as the last line of defence, a safe pair of hands for the Bucs supporters.  It was not a surprise when the Orlando Pirates chairman Dr Irvin Khoza awarded him with the chairman’s award at a recent club award ceremony.  When new Bafana Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba came into the job in August, questions were floating on who he will pick as his captain.

In his very first game, Mashaba gave Senzo the responsibility of leading the team, clearly seeing a born leader in him.  At a press conference on Monday morning in the wake of this tragedy, a teary national team coach said, “I don’t know why there was any doubt that Senzo is the best keeper we have”.   He obviously had plans to retain Meyiwa as his first choice goalkeeper at Bafana even when Itumeleng Khune recovers from injury.

Bafana are now in a very good position to qualify for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations, and a large bulk of credit must go to Senzo for the brave performance he put up in these first four qualifiers, sometimes denying the opposition goals from point blank range.   His career was starting to blossom at both club and country, and he was definitely starting to grow on not just the Pirates fans, but all those of us who love and appreciate football.  We have to say well done to the Premier Soccer League for heeding the call to postpone the upcoming Soweto Derby between Pirates and Chiefs, which was scheduled to be played this coming Saturday.

It is only fitting to give everyone at the club time to grieve and give Senzo a hero’s farewell.  I hope Bafana Bafana also realise that they will have to make sure they qualify for this tournament in honour of a man who helped put them at the top of their group.  My last encounter with this humble man was just a week and a half ago in Polokwane when I bumped into him at the team hotel.

The team was preparing for a crucial game against Congo, and he was telling me of the positive mood in camp.  We have lost a true hero of our football, and Senzo is now in great company with the likes of Gift Leremi, Scara Ngobese, Thomas Madigage, Sizwe Motaung, Lesley Manyathela and Shakes Kungwane.  Lala ngoxolo ‘Bhakabhaka’.