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A Big Tree Has Fallen!

Proverbs chapter 16 verse 1 couldn’t be more appropriate to open my column this week. The verse reads, “We may make our plans, but God has the last word.” 
It is indeed true that God will always have the last word because I had planned to dedicate this week’s column to salute Banyana Banyana head coach, Desiree Ellis and striker, Thembi Kgatlana for the wonderful and ground-breaking achievements of winning CAF African Women’s Coach of the Year and Player of the Year and African Goal of The Year awards, respectively, last week Tuesday at the CAF Awards ceremony held in Dakar, Senegal. 
But God had other plans. He decided otherwise. 
Coach Ellis is the first South African to win the COSAFA Cup as both player and coach. She’s also the first coach to lead Banyana Banyana to qualification for the FIFA World Cup, while Kgatlana – who was nominated for the Player of the Year award for the second time – takes over from teammate Noko Matlou who’s the only other South African to have won that award, back in 2008. These two ladies deserve all the praise for putting South African women’s football on the map and may they continue to be the shining light. By the same token, it is only fair that we also acknowledge and celebrate Mamelodi Sundowns and Uganda’s goalkeeper, Denis Onyango who continues to raise the bar with his consistency and dominance in continental football, without making any noise about it. 
The joyous and celebratory mood came to a scratching halt on Sunday morning when we woke up to the news that Bafana Bafana legend, Phil ‘Chippa’ Masinga, was no more! The 1.93m tall legendary figure took his last breath and had a final whistle blown after 49 years on Sunday, January 13, after a long illness at a Johannesburg hospital. 
Yes, I knew he was in hospital for over a month, but his passing was just unexpected. It has since been confirmed that cancer is the reason this wonderful legend ceased to exist. His untimely death has dealt South African football a huge blow and it is worrying that we continue to lose some of the people who have contributed so much to the Beautiful Game, people who paved the way for the current generation and put our country’s football on the map. To this day, the Class of ’96 remains the pride of our game because of their achievements, dedication and selflessness.
In Phil, we didn’t only lose a former player – we lost a legend and a role model. The lanky soft-spoken Masinga was never one to be materialistic. He was a gentle giant filled with humility. Even in his sick bed, Phil was always a phone call away. He would never give you a run-around but would always avail himself. Chippa had time for everyone – it didn’t matter who you’re or where you’re from. He always saw an important person in everyone. Whenever you put a call through to him, Chippa would speak sense and his passion for the game always came to the fore through his views.
Unlike many, he would never look for scapegoats or engage in a blame game, but he would come up with possible solutions to whatever he felt was not going right. His humility was always something to marvel on and his passing is really a big blow. He has enjoyed our full support during his playing days, but he was not spared the criticism and booing. Yet, despite all of that, even with the hurt of being booed by his own, Phil never turned his back on his country. He even risked losing his position at club level just to represent his country. Even during difficult times of loss of scoring form, he never shied away from responsibility. Serving the country was more important to him than his own personal gains, such was the man named Philemon ‘Chippa’ Masinga. 
To Chippa’s wife, kids and the whole family, thank you for sharing your loved one with us. You know Chippa, not just what he has contributed to our football, but the man himself. Most people only know Chippa the footballer, but you know Chippa the husband, father, brother, uncle and losing him can’t be any easier. The country joins you in mourning this legend and you must know that you’re not alone in this dark period of your lives. We send a collective message of support and will keep you in our thoughts and prayers. 
Chippa will be remembered for a lot of things on and off the field, but the goal that secured Bafana Bafana’s first ever World Cup appearance in France 1998 will forever be etched into the hearts of all South Africans. It was that thunderous strike from about 30m out of Congo Brazzaville’s goals that ensured our ticket to the World Cup, after Chippa’s good friend, Doctor Khumalo, intercepted a pass and laid a through ball to Chippa, who needed no second invitation. I still get goosebumps thinking about that screamer of a shot and the jubilant mood it created around the country.
Thank you, Chippa, you’ve run your race. Rest now, legend. Rest, big Phil. 

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