Even though he wore the No?1 jersey for just two years and captained for even shorter, his name deserves to be counted among the greats, writes Mondli Makhanya
When religious people commune with their saints and prophets, they make signs to show their oneness with fellow believers.
In the Buccaneer faith, when we make the cross-armed sign, we commune with the legends – dead and alive – who have worn the skull and crossbones emblem on their shirts. Among those who have worn that jersey, some have been great, some have been fabulous and some have been extraordinary.
Then there are those who have been out of this world, truly deserving the title “legend”.
Among them are the likes of Sam “Baboon Shepherd” Shabangu, one of the original Buccaneers of 1937.
There is Chippa Moloi, a star of the 60s and 70s. One thinks of Jomo Sono, arguably South Africa’s greatest footballer. There was Patson Banda, who spent more than 10 years between the Pirates poles.
There was Henry “Mthofi” Khumalo, whose 1981 second-leg hat-trick overturned a 2-0 first leg deficit against Kaizer Chiefs to clinch a Champ of Champs Cup final victory.
Andy “Jesus” Karajinski, the first mlungu to ever wear the captain’s armband, also comes to mind.
There is Jerry Sikhosana, whose long-range shot broke the hearts of Asec Mimosa fans on that glorious day in December 1995 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and thus earned Orlando Pirates the only gold star in the possession of a southern African team. And Lucky Lekgwathi, who captained the mighty Buccaneers to two consecutive trebles.
Senzo Meyiwa, whose life was snuffed out by some bastard’s bullet this week, belongs in that pantheon of Buccaneer legends. Even though he wore the number 1 jersey for just two years and captained for even shorter, his name deserves to be counted among these greats. Even though he was just 27 years old, the word ‘legend’ sits comfortably in front of his name.
It was on November 12 2012 that Meyiwa began carving his name on to the Pirates wall of fame.
Those of us who were there, at Loftus Versveld in Pretoria, remember with great cheer the day he took advantage of the injured Moeneeb Josephs’ absence to show what he was made of. He was devilish on that night, denying Mamelodi Sundowns many chances as Pirates took the league game 3-1.
By the time Josephs returned from injury, the jersey was taken. Meyiwa was to go on to become a pillar of Pirates’ 2013 African Champions League campaign, where his astounding saves were central to the Buccaneers reaching the final and coming within a whisker of a second star.
It was during that campaign Meyiwa played one of the best games of his life. Evil deemed that it was a game most of us never got to see.
That game was the second leg of an African Champions League clash against TP Mazembe in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Orlando Pirates had secured a 3-1 lead in the first leg at Orlando Stadium and were expecting the fires of hell to be thrown at them.
Their fears came true as intimidatory tactics ad nauseam were piled on the visitors. The signs were there when the SABC was denied a feed by the local broadcaster. The referee’s performance on the field fed into the conspiracy theories as to why there had been a blackout to South African viewers.
In the eyes of the South African contingent, he made little effort in concealing his role as Mazembe’s 12th player, including red-carding Lekgwathi for a legitimate challenge.
The worst was the awarding of two dubious penalties, which seemed to be the last throw of the dice in the bid to secure Mazembe a lifeline. Meyiwa silenced the partisan crowd on both occasions.
His heroics on that day were relayed to fans back home via social media and in airport interviews with team-mates on their return from the DRC.
He told KickOff.com at the airport that he had been aware of the responsibility on his shoulders when the first penalty was given.
“When they were awarded that penalty, I told myself I wanted to save Pirates. I wanted to save South Africa. I wanted to shine and show people that I am the best,” he said.
The penalty saves were just among several magnificent stops on that day. But it was only when the footage was belatedly released to South African broadcasters that we got to see just how special he had been. Those moments were viewed over and over on YouTube and replayed on TV this week as South Africans relived the moments that made Meyiwa a true legend. They will be in our memories and conversations for eternity.
They were emblematic of his 15 years in the Pirates and national junior teams, as well as his sterling career in the senior teams. He gave his all. He was brave. He was intelligent. He was a leader. He was a unifier. He was simply special.
Twenty-four hours before his death, he showed us for the last time just how special he was. On that rain-drenched night at Orlando Stadium, that most holy cathedral of football, he bid us farewell in a very Senzo Meyiwa way. His superhuman performance in the Telkom Knockout quarterfinal clash against Ajax was one he must have wanted us to remember him by.
In an interview with City Press reporter Daniel Mothowagae in July this year, Meyiwa revealed his state of mind on that November 2012 night at Loftus from which there was going to be no turning back.
“I was on the bench for a long time because Moeneeb was doing well in goal. It was in this game where I proved to Roger [de Sá] that I was hungry for the action and I never looked back. I want to become a legend of this team and it is possible if I keep on dreaming.”
Well, you achieved it Senzo. You did become a legend. When the millions of Buccaneers across the planet make the holy sign, we will be communing with you.
Hamba Kahle Bhakajuju! Robala kakhotso Bhakaniya!