Monday, 3 November 2014

The season of Senzo: South African football begins the long, difficult struggle to return to normality

The final farewell: Orlando Pirates players sing for Senzo
This will be the season of Senzo Meyiwa. And not just for Orlando Pirates, whose grieving players so memorably sang him to his resting place at the Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday.

It will be all about Senzo, the Bafana Bafana goalkeeper shot in his prime. No matter how long the Kaizer Chiefs unbeaten run guns on; no matter how Sundowns and the AmaKhosi do in the African Champions League; no matter which club steps forward to claim the Telkom KO and Nedbank Cup. Whether the AFCON championship goes ahead in Morocco or not.

Every sad step of the rest of this summer will be played against the backdrop of enormous loss.  The senseless nature of his death and the sudden departure of a 27-year-old who did not concede a goal in four AFCON qualifiers under Shakes Mashaba makes that inevitable.

With Orlando Pirates scheduled game tonight (Tuesday) against Platinum Stars called off and the Bafana Bafana squad announcement delayed until tomorrow, we have not yet become accustomed to the hole left by the striker-turned-custodian who left uMlazi with borrowed boots aged 13.

Tomorrow Danny Jordaan will announce an amnesty on illegal guns, with the promise of a statue outside SAFA House erected from the melted-down weapons. National coach Mashaba will name a new No1 and captain from a pool featuring Belgian-based Darren Keet, experienced Wits University No 1 Moeneeb Josephs and SuperSport United’s forgotten man Ronwen Williams.

Personally I think Shakes, as is his custom, will go for the unexpected and call up Kaizer Chiefs stand-in Brilliant Khuzwayo, the man who replaced Itumeleng Khune, for the game against Sudan on November 15; a clash moved to the Moses Mabhida in honour of Meyiwa.

Find the killers: fans at the funeral
As for Pirates, when they resume their campaign in the Telkom KO semi-final against SuperSport on Saturday, they have two alternatives Brighton Mhlongo, 23, or Philani Zikala, 31, to fill Senzo’s golden gloves.

Mhlongo has the Meyiwa feel to him: nine years in the Pirates structure, a couple of appearances in the first team behind Senzo and Fatau Dauda over the last year, a spell with FC AK three years ago.

There are reports of SAFA and the PSL allowing Pirates to sign a contracted goalkeeper outside of the transfer window due to the extra-ordinary nature of events last week. But goalkeeping gems are rare and risky, especially when you have a popular back-up like Mhlongo, who appeared to lead the singing for Senzo while God wept His slow, sullen drizzle over Durban on Saturday.

From the little we’ve seen of him, he looks like the right man rather than Zikalala, the former AmaZulu stopper who has yet to don the jersey. Former Pirates coach Augusto Palacios, the head of development at the club, reckons: “Brighton learned a lot from Senzo and he’s played for South Africa’s Under 23s. I don’t think they need to sign a new goalkeeper, Mhlongo can do the job.”

Those are the first stages of a nation’s rehabilitation: Senzo’s replacement at national and club level. Next, we will ease our pain by discussing how BafanaBafana and Orlando Pirates are coping without their Captain, our Captain.Will they come roaring back as a tribute to their departed team-mate or struggle with the weight of their loss?

I chanced across the Orlando Pirates players at King Shaka Airport after the funeral and shook hands with a bemused Vladimir Vermecovic. He knows how hard the task of rehabilitation will be. The loss of a player due to injury or suspension can unbalance the best of teams: to lose their captain and goalkeeper under these circumstances is a blow few clubs ever have to deal with. The Buccaneers themselves will measure the grief on the field as a further step forward.

Then comes the Mandisa versus Kelly debate as the estate (including the much discussed BMW X6) is carved up. The apprehension and charging of three suspects (or the failure to do so) and the debate over gun crime in Mzanzi. The naming of academies, stadiums and streets after our fallen hero. The gun-metal statue, which I think would be an eminently suitable memorable.

It will be a long and difficult road to recovery for football-speaking South Africa. Nobody doubts that. But what we can do without are the trolls, the jokers, the fascists who chip away at the whole sorry saga.

How a man like Gareth Cliff, a popular Idols judge who proclaims himself a "new South African" can sit watching a ceremony of such deep sorrow and think of tweeting: "Who is paying for this massive funeral" is entirely beyond me. Such a thought, let alone a public sentiment, betrays a deep malaise in South Africa, even among the so-called liberals. A deep misunderstanding of the dominant culture, cruelly surpressed for so long under Apartheid.

It wasn't the question which irked, it was the timing. The airport lounge I was sat in reflected the two camps quite brilliantly. The real Mzanzi watching the singing, the sadness, the who ceremony with deep respect and sadness, the old South Africa frowning, questioning, angry and confused.

But generally the nation has come together to commemorate the death of Our Captain. That in itself offers a glimmer of hope in a nation divided rather than united by sport, race and crime since the heady days of Nelson Mandela’s post-democratic Rainbow Nation.

The likes of Steve Hofmeyr, Dan Roodt and apparently even Gareth Cliff and his paler friends no longer rule this country or dictate its mood. The vast majority are stunned and saddened by Senzo's sudden death. The mourning has begun, the recovery is in progress, we unite in anger and celebration. Let’s try to carry on that way.

A shortened version of this story appears as my Neal and Pray column in today's

No comments:

Post a Comment