By Tiisetso Motsoeneng
SOUTH Africa football captain Senzo Meyiwa was shot dead by burglars as he tried to protect his celebrity girlfriend during a break-in, a killing that sent shockwaves across the football-mad country.
At an emotional news conference on Monday, Meyiwa’s colleagues paid tribute to the 27-year-old goalkeeper, who was hit by a single round in the chest as he confronted two intruders on Sunday night at the home of actress and singer Kelly Khumalo in Vosloorus, a township southeast of Johannesburg.
He was dead on arrival at hospital, police said.
Meyiwa’s death turns the spotlight once again on gun violence in South Africa less than a week after Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius was jailed for five years for shooting dead his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp last year.
This weekend’s Johannesburg derby in front of 90,000 fans between Soweto giants Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates – the club Meyiwa joined as a 13-year-old and ended up leading – was postponed as a mark of respect.
“Don’t think such a good man as Senzo can go and vanish. His spirit will live,” Shakes Mashaba, coach of the Bafana Bafana national side, said, tears streaming down his cheeks and his voice quavering with emotion. “He would always be the leader.”
Even though South Africa’s murder rate has been gradually dropping, it remains one of the world’s most violent countries, with police recording more than 17,000 murders last year, or 31 per 100,000 people – seven times the rate in the United States.
In the Pistorius trial, his lawyers had cited his fears that an intruder he was in the house as part of his defence.
“We mourn the death of this young footballer and team leader whose life has been taken away at the prime of his career,” President Jacob Zuma said in a statement.
“The law enforcement authorities must leave no stone unturned in finding his killers and bring them to justice. Words cannot express the nation’s shock at this loss.”
Meyiwa captained South Africa in their last four matches in the African Nations Cup qualifiers without conceding a goal and played on Saturday when Pirates – nicknamed the Bucanneers – advanced to the semi-finals of the South African League Cup.
Pirates chairman Irvin Khoza said the club, which was founded in 1937 by the children of migrant workers drawn to Johannesburg’s gold mines, was devastated by the killing.
“We had a session in the morning with the players at which we were soul-searching,” Khoza said. “A lot of sobbing and crying. It was uncontrollable.”
Police said two men entered Khumalo’s house on Sunday evening where Meyiwa was in a party of seven in the house. A third assailant waited outside the house and all three fled immediately after the shooting.
“Two guys entered the house and demanded cellphones, money and other valuables,” provincial security official Sizakele Nkosi-Malubane told reporters. “Senzo tried to protect Kelly because one of the men had a gun pointed towards her.”
The killing heightened the anger and indignation of South Africans who are fed up with often senseless violent crime.
One DJ on Five FM, a popular nationwide radio station, urged police to catch the killers and “inject them with Ebola”.
Phiyega also announced a special task team to investigate the murder, along with a reward of 250,000 rand ($23,000) for information leading to the arrest of his killers.