United in SORROW

2016-01-28 06:00
Former Gamalakhe United and Maritzburg United’s Mondli Cele was laid to rest in Umkomaas on Saturday. PHOTO: Andrew McFadden

Former Gamalakhe United and Maritzburg United’s Mondli Cele was laid to rest in Umkomaas on Saturday. PHOTO: Andrew McFadden

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NELSON Mandela said that sport unites a nation and, even in grief, it unites a community, fellow players and teams when tragedy strikes.

While soccer is passionately followed in South Africa and battles on the field are fiercely fought with club and pride at stake, all is forgotten competitors unite while remembering a talent cut down in its prime.

And so it was on Saturday when hundreds gathered at Folweni Sports Ground to bid a final farewell to former Gamalakhe United and Maritzburg United midfielder Mondli Cele (26) who was killed in a car accident hours after scoring in the club’s 3-3 draw against Orlando Pirates in Pietermaritzburg two weekends ago.

As one photographer put it during the week, “Life is so fickle. There I was taking a picture of Cele celebrating madly on Saturday after scoring his goal, only to wake up on Sunday to the news that he was dead.”

United players paid tribute to a team-mate and a massive talent through song and by carrying his coffin for his final journey in the hearse. Cele was a talent on the rise, a flower which had many buds and was about to burst forth in its glory for all to see.

While banners waved and soulful tributes were given, it was current Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba who gave food for thought and had mourners contemplating what they as friends, family and soccer supporters had lost.

“Mondli Cele had a massive future and was so close to selection and actually playing for Bafana,” said the coach who had previously selected Cele in his 34-man provisional squad before the African Cup of Nations in Gabon last year.

“We had been monitoring his progress and only last week his name had popped up in our discussions. Life has plans for us that we never know and so it was with Mondli­.

“Last week, we were talking about him, we were happy for him, he had played the game of his life against Pirates and now he is no more, only a memory and thoughts of what he could have been.”

While there was time for reflection, tributes and prayer, the mourners and fellow players were urged to keep Cele’s spirit alive by remembering the good things he had achieved and left behind.

PSL chief operating officer, Ronnie Schloss asked people to look at the positives and remember the happy moments, like Cele’s professional debut in the PSL, his call-up to the Bafana squad and those important goals he scored for his club.

Bheki Cele, now the country’s deputy minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, expressed his concern at the number of players getting killed in motor accidents and, while the atmosphere was heavy with sadness, he urged PSL club bosses to watch their players, apply strict rules and guide them through the standards and responsibilities of a living a professional sportsman’s lifestyle.

Mondli Cele was laid to rest at Umkomaas and leaves behind a fiancée and two children.

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