Cape Town – How grotesquely ironic that signs of a turnaround in the fortunes of Bafana Bafana have come at this particular juncture in African soccer’s timeline.
LIVE REACTION: Senzo Meyiwa's death
GALLERY: RIP SENZO MEYIWA
Suddenly the overdue but rightful optimism in the fledgling months of Shakes Mashaba’s latest tenure as the national team’s coach means so very little ... and that despite Bafana being tantalisingly close to rare qualification for an Africa Cup of Nations tournament, needing just to beat limited Sudan at Mbombela Stadium by any margin in mid-November to ensure their supposed passage.
Not only has the entire jamboree, intended for Morocco early next year, been plunged into uncertainty through the ravages of the Ebola virus, but in a tremulous development closer to home South African sport has been struck by one of its most high-profile tragedies ever as hitherto strong-performing acting captain and goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa, 27, fell tragic victim to the country’s crime epidemic on Sunday.
It has made waves around the world, as you would expect it to, even as we South Africans ruefully shake our heads daily in remembrance of the plentiful, less acclaimed victims of domestic murder in our midst.
All the killing of a top-tier sportsperson does a little differently is send out a headline-screaming, sobering reminder that absolutely nobody is impervious to one of the worst and most tenacious curses in our land.
No, not even a goalkeeper like Meyiwa, from the ranks of that rare, singular breed of personnel in football who are trusted -- by the definition of their difficult, shot-stopping trade – to be impenetrable.
You even want to say bulletproof, though his apparent slaying at the hands of a criminal’s bullet to the back slams a horrible lid on that optimistic theory.
If there is some minor consolation for this event, deep in our angered and sad minds, it is that Umlazi-born Orlando Pirates favourite Meyiwa died at a distinguished peak in his personal trade, having led the national team – initially a little against the odds – in every Afcon qualifier and standing tall as only ‘keeper on the continent still to be sporting a clean sheet.
When the time seems more apt, Bafana must resume their revivalist spirit, and they should – and almost certainly will – do it with special, motivational cognisance of their slain leader and brave man between the proverbial sticks.
But only when ... because right now we have reason on our faraway shores to question the words of the late Liverpool cult figure Bill Shankly: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death; I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
Sometimes the game is eclipsed, sometimes it needs a respectful breather.
The request by Pirates to postpone Saturday’s ever-seismic Soweto PSL derby – when it eventually happens, it will be one of the most poignant – is in line with that need for respect, and reflection.
RIP Senzo Meyiwa, 1987-2014.
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