Cape Town - As Free State Stars striker Richard “Kimberley Express” Henyekane
(31), who died in a car accident this week, was laid to rest in his home
town, a dark side emerged of a player battling alcohol dependence.
Henyekane’s funeral service began at the Mittah Seperepere Convention
Centre in Kimberley, with soccer bosses and various government
officials in attendance.
Henyekane’s young sister, Keaobaka (14), moved mourners to tears when
she recited a poem, titled For My Brothers – a dedication toher
brothers Joseph – also a soccer player who died in his Kimberley home in
December last year – and Richard.
“My brother should rest in peace even though it is not easy. I loved
Richard a lot, just like I loved my other brother Joseph,” said
Orlando Pirates boss Irvin Khoza thanked the Henyekane family for
producing two players for the country. “We are here today to thank the
Henyekane family and Richard’s mother for giving us this talented young
man that we are gathered here today to pay our last respects to. Our
country has lost a warrior,” said Khoza.
But close friends and a former coach described the soccer star as a “party animal” and “boozer of note”.
A friend and team-mate, who asked not to be named, told City Press Henyekane enjoyed his drink but couldn’t handle his alcohol.
“He was a ‘cheap drunk’. After two bottles – he was out,” said the friend.
Friends and team-mates of the star, who died behind the wheel of his
friend’s VW Golf 6 in the early hours of Tuesday morning, are now
wondering whether his partying may have had something to do with his
His former coach at Golden Arrows, Manqoba Mngqithi, said Henyekane
had admitted to his drinking problem when he was still with the team.
“We once called him to a meeting and he confided to us his only
problem was alcohol. We tried to help him as much as we could,” said
He said it was sad that our country was losing talented soccer
players because they partied too hard and didn’t use their time off
“The problem is the culture of drinking in black communities has
changed. It is no longer about drinking any more, but we calculate the
number of bottles you’ve drunk,” he said, adding Henyekane’s problem
didn’t affect him much on the pitch.
Mngqithi said, besides his battles with the bottle, Henyekane was a humble and good player.
Another friend added Henyekane was a great guy to hang around with
but his problem was he was easily influenced and had too many friends
who gave him bad advice.
“He used to attend every party,” the friend said.
Henyekane died when the car he was driving collided with a truck and
caught fire on impact on the N5 between Harrismith and Bethlehem in the
Free State. Henyekane was with four other passengers: Ayanda Motete
(19), Nthabiseng Motsoetsoe (20), Limpho Moloi (18) and a male friend
who has only been identified as Mzambiya. They all died at the scene.
The truck driver and his passenger survived. The car belonged to
friend and team-mate Bokang “Grosso” Thlone, who was a passenger in
another car travelling a few metres behind Henyekane when the accident
Thlone said: “We were in four different cars, but we first stopped at
a chill spot called Five Star. At around 6pm, we decided to move to
Stern Village restaurant in QwaQwa. From that moment I decided I wasn’t
driving any more, because I was a bit tipsy. I then gave Henyekane my
car keys … We were all tipsy,” he said.
At around 10pm, Henyekane said he was tired and went to Tlhone’s car
to take a nap. An hour later, Henyekane told them he wanted to leave the
The group stopped at a nearby garage, where Henyekane called Tlhone to one side.
“Richard called me and said: ‘Grosso you will remember me. We’ll meet
at the front [sic].” He said he didn’t understand what his friend
meant, but those were Henyekane’s last words to him.
Tlhone said 10 minutes later. they watched in horror as the car he was driving burst into flames.
“Our friends were standing at the scene, screaming and crying. We
knew something was wrong. We all broke down in tears. It was a horrific
accident,” said Tlhone, looking down.
Before they went on a drinking spree on Saturday night, Free State
Stars coach Kinnah Phiri warned Henyekane and the rest of the squad not
to go out celebrating, as they had lost to Amazulu.
Free State Stars captain Paulus Masehe told City Press their coach
made it loud and clear there was “nothing to celebrate” that night.
He described Henyekane as a happy and reserved person but said his “actions spoke louder than words”.
“He would save the team by scoring goals,” said Masehe.
On Thursday, the hall was packed during Henyekane’s memorial service
at Dihlabeng township in Bethlehem. Among the mourners were Mamelodi
Sundowns team manager Mike Ntombela, Sundowns supporters mobilising
manager Alex Shakoane, former striker Daniel Mudau, Moroka Swallows
public relations officer Sipho Xulu and Free State Social Development
MEC Sisi Ntombela.
Bloemfontein Celtic chief executive Khumbulani Konco pleaded with
soccer players to learn from Henyekane’s tragic death. “If you know you
have training the following day, what [are you doing] at 11pm on the
road?” Konco asked.
“We are not saying do not drink, but drink responsibly. Players,
admit you love partying, but rest. This could have been avoided,” Konco
Orlando Pirates administrative officer Floyd Mbele told the mourners
Henyekane’s passing had evoked a lot of memories at the Soweto team.
Last year, Pirates captain Senzo Meyiwa was shot and killed at his
Mbele said soccer players should remember that before they became
stars they were members of the community. He urged players not to become
too big headed when they become famous.
Another of Henyekane’s team-mates, Reuben Thebakang, could not
believe the friend he met a year ago was no more. They used to share a
room when in camp. “Now who am I going to share a room with?” asked a
He said Henyekane had told him he wanted to score more goals because
he could see he “belonged” in the team. He said his fondest memories
with Henyekane were going fishing and cooking together. “I could see he
was ready for a change. Everything he was doing now was for his unborn
child,” said Thebakang, battling back the tears.