Nzori, Thanks For The Wonderful Memories!
Senzo Robert Meyiwa is no more, and as Orlando Pirates chairman Dr Irvin Khoza said, “It’s only fair that we cry.”
The Bafana Bafana and Orlando Pirates captain took his last breath on Sunday night as he met his tragic, untimely death.
Who would have thought that such a crazy character, so full of life, would be lying in a morgue less than 24 hours after leading Orlando Pirates to an emphatic 4-1 Telkom Knockout quarter-final victory against Ajax Cape Town?
Who would have predicted that Meyiwa would be bidding his final farewell to the Bucs faithful at Orlando stadium on Saturday night, with a win against one of the few former Bucs coaches who had enough faith in Senzo to give him a regular run?
I last spoke to Senzo on Sunday afternoon, and he was his usual jovial self, talking about the then upcoming Soweto derby and the Telkom Knockout semi-finals draw. We made plans but God decided otherwise. We planned to do an interview for this publication ahead of Bafana's next qualifier against Sudan, as he was looking for his fifth straight clean sheet in the national team colours, among other things. We haven’t even put his lifeless body into the grave yet, but I can already feel his absence! And if this is how I feel about this 27-year-old guy, can you imagine what his family and teammates are going through?
Senzo had presence. Senzo had charisma. Senzo had humility. Senzo had resilience. Senzo had a sense of humour. Senzo had passion. Senzo had respect for everyone. Senzo was crazy. Senzo was caring. Senzo was brave. Senzo was friendly. Senzo was full of life. Senzo could talk himself out of any situation with his contagious smile and I’m sure, given one more minute or so with his killer, Senzo would have charmed that bloody thug out of shooting him. Senzo was not the kind of person you could be mad at for long because he never begrudged anyone. If he wronged you, he’d apologise and continue with life as if nothing had happened. If you held that against him, Senzo would laugh the hell out of you. It was never easy to take Senzo seriously because he was such a playful character. This reminds me of the words I once came across, saying, “There’s a king in every kid and there’s a kid in every king,” which I think best describes Senzo’s personality.
I remember every time I brought up his splendid performance away to TP Mazembe in the CAF Champions League, there was always a sudden pause that followed my every question and then he’d look away, avoiding eye contact. This bothered me because I couldn’t understand why he would avoid speaking about such a heroic performance that had everyone talking and praising him. It was only after the recent 0-0 draw against Nigeria in the Afcon qualifiers that I finally ‘cornered’ him about this routine reaction to my questions about Lubumbashi. He finally opened up and said, “You know what, my outie, that’s the game I finally won a lot of people’s hearts and confidence. That’s the game I proved to everyone who doubted me that I was a real man and that I was up to the challenge of being the team’s number one goalkeeper. Every time I think about it, I get emotional and want to cry because, until that game, very few people believed in me, so I try to avoid speaking about it as much as possible.” Now I finally had an explanation. I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed this reaction whenever Senzo discussed his exploits in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Senzo earned his stripes. He didn’t have it easy at all, be it at Orlando Pirates or Bafana Bafana, and he was constantly under a lot of pressure to prove his worth, but he persevered, and remained humble and professional through it all.
The news of Senzo’s passing reached me a couple of hours after I had spoken to him, but I treated it as just another malicious rumour, simply because I refused to associate ‘Nzori’ with death. It could never happen to Senzo’s young life, not when he was at the peak of his career and finally living his dream of regular game-time in Bafana Bafana. I thought to myself, “There’s no one who could even think of pointing a firearm at Senzo, let alone shooting him. This can’t be true.” After the news was confirmed, I called his mentor, Lucky Lekgwathi, to no avail. True to his gentlemanly nature, Lekgwathi returned my call later on. The man on the other side of the phone was a shadow of the strong-willed 38-year-old living legend. To say Lekgwathi was distraught would be an understatement!
He simply asked me a question that I’m still battling to get an answer to, “Mara Vuyani senzeni (But what have we done), mf’ethu? Why are these things happening to us?” This is such a heart-breaking question coming from a captain who has seen no less than three of his close friends and teammates depart under tragic circumstances. I murmured a few words that I can’t even recall now, trying to console Phinda Mzala, as I was lost for words myself.
“My outieee, ukuphi (where are you)?” would precede every telephone conversation I had with Senzo. That’s the same reaction I was expecting when I called his phone after 21h00 on Sunday night, but it rang unanswered.
‘Nzori’, thanks for the wonderful memories, buddy. We thank you for your undeniable contribution to the beautiful game. Your tragic passing has touched everyone and, as we unite in grief, we release you with heavy hearts. Your spirit and legacy lives on. We will never forget you. To his family, our heartfelt condolences go to you in this trying period. We can only imagine the pain at the loss of such a wonderful son, but we hope you find solace in the knowledge that God would never put you in a situation you couldn’t handle.
My outieee, ukuphi?