Thamsanqa Gabuza’s decision to skip his son’s funeral so he could focus on the MTN8 final angered many, but the soccer player tells DRUM he did it for his family.
HE’S grinning from ear to ear as he poses for pictures with the MTN8 Cup trophy and his man of the match award.
There’s no mistaking his jubilation, or that of his SuperSport United teammates, in the minutes after they conquered Highlands Park to win the competition.
And as the tournament’s top scorer, Thamsanqa Gabuza has every reason to be beaming. He basks in the adulation of his ecstatic teammates and the screams and applause from his cheering fans
Yet on the other side of his smile lies a grim secret – one which would spill out into the world before the victory glow had even begun to fade, leaving Mzansi’s football supporters dumbstruck, and many outraged.
The striker (32) confessed that not only had his baby son died and been laid to rest two days before the big game, he’d also skipped his child’s funeral so he could be at a training session. “Nothing is more important than burying your child,” wrote one Facebook
user, a sentiment which was shared by many others. “Utterly incomprehensible,” posted another. “It makes no sense at all. Worse that he even went to celebrate. How was he able to even function? Was it his blood son? Hay, there are so many things wrong here by my standards.”
DRUM catches up with Thamsanqa a few weeks after the tournament final, at the end of a training session in Sunninghill, Johannesburg.
Not laying his baby to rest was the most agonising decision of his life, he tells us. “It was very hard, I do not want to lie, but at the end of the day it was something I had to deal with as a professional. I believe the way I handled it was the right way to do things,” he says as his voice falters, heavy with sadness.
“I had to separate my feelings and understand this is my job and it puts food on the table. I had to handle the situation the best way I could, while also thinking about the future. “I had to make a decision that was not going to jeopardise what supports me and my family.”
The decision to continue with his training and focus on the final was the easy part, Thamsanqa says. “The hard part is living with the decision you have made. His son, the youngest of his five children, was just eight months old when he died on 30 September, five days before the MTN8 Cup final.
The striker’s teammates were left reeling when he told them about his son’s passing, coach Kaitano Tembo told the Sowetan. “He lost his son on Monday and he never told anyone. The funeral was on Thursday and he never attended because he only told us in the dressing room now‚” Tembo told stunned reporters at the team’s post-match conference.
The coach said he would never have wanted his player to skip the funeral. “I think he did what he did for the badge . . . He didn’t want to upset the camp because we were facing a very crucial game.” Tembo dedicated the team’s win to Thamsanqa, but said it pained him that the player had stuck with the team “probably for the team and for me”. “I appreciate it but at the same time for the team and for me”. “I’m also hurting.”
Thamsanqa’s son had lived with his family in Mnambithi in KwaZulu-Natal, which is also home to his older children, Palesa (12), Dudlana (10), and twins Thoriso and Tankiso (6). His kids are his world and although he doesn’t live with them, he says he visits them in KZN every chance he gets.
When he heard his baby had died, he was devastated. The news hit him “like nothing else before”, he recalls. “It was the first time I experienced such feelings,” he says of the pain and grief.
Thamsanqa’s son had not been named at the time of his death, and he refuses to be drawn into the cause of his son’s death, or his relationship status, saying those matters “are private”.
He knew his teammates, coach and managers would understand if he pulled out to return home to KZN for the funeral, but he also knew leaving could affect the dynamics of the team and their performance.
He decided to keep his terrible news to himself so the team could play with clear heads and without distractions. His family stood by his decision too, he says, and that’s something for which he will always be grateful. “They did not question my decision; they actually encouraged me.
They assured me of their support, and it was for that reason I was able to persevere the way I did. “It was because of their support that I managed to go and play my best game, even with this situation at the back of my mind.”
Everything happens for a reason, the footballer muses. His decision wasn’t an easy one. It has weighed heavily on him, and he thinks about it often. Once the comforting cheers of the crowd had died down and Soweto’s Orlando Stadium had emptied out, there was no longer anything to distract him from his grief.
Then his son’s death, and the fact that he’d not been at his funeral, hit him hard. But he maintains his decision was for the best. “The way I handled my son’s passing was what I felt was the right way to do it. It was a decision I made for me and for my family. What comforts me is knowing that even though I couldn’t go to the funeral because of work, my family was there,” Thamsanqa explains.
Before kick-off he prayed and asked God for the strength to play and win the cup, so he could dedicate it to his son. “I was doing it for him, to show that although I couldn’t be there for him, here is something to show for it.
“My prayers were answered when we won the cup.” Paying his last respects to his son in the week after the big game helped too, he says, as did the support from his team. “The support I got when I broke the news to them was very strong. I got the following week off which I used to go home to pay my respects and fix the things I had to fix.”
Now that he’s returned, the club will continue to have his back. “No one expected it. It was a very‚ very emotional moment for the team,” SuperSport United skipper Dean Furman told The Herald. “What we’ve built here at SuperSport is a team that is very close.
We’ve just got to remain around him and support him and his family. “It’s going to be very tough weeks and months ahead for him. We just have to help him through and give all the support he needs.”
Thamsanqa finds solace in football. “I want to go back to the national team. I want to win the league with SuperSport United and I want to be a top goal scorer. And that takes hard work.”