United in sorrow

2016-02-03 06:00
PHOTO: gallo images  Maritzburg United's Mondli Cele was laid to rest in Mkhomazi after a  funeral service at Folweni sports ground on Saturday.

PHOTO: gallo images Maritzburg United's Mondli Cele was laid to rest in Mkhomazi after a funeral service at Folweni sports ground on Saturday.

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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 and competitors unite while remembering a talent cut down in its prime.

So it was on Saturday when hundreds gathered at Folweni sports ground near Isipingo to bid a final farewell to 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 last weekend.

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.”

Maritzburg United players paid tribute to a teammate 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 tributes were given, it was 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 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 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 the important goals he scored for his club.

Kwanda Mngonyama, a Maritzburg United tea-mate of Cele’s, led the team in song, with Mashaba singing with purpose.

For the Maritzburg players, this was a moment to pledge their commitment to fighting relegation this season and honouring their friend by avoiding the drop. Maritzburg are currently bottom of the PSL log and it will be interesting to observe their approach for the rest of the season as they attempt to stay in the top echelon of South African football.

Bheki Cele, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries deputy minister, expressed his concern at the number of players being killed in motor accidents and, while the atmosphere was heavy, 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.

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

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