Tragic tale of South Africa's soccer legends

Tragedy has been stalking South Africa's soccer fraternity, as the death of Bafana Bafana's assistant coach Thomas Madigage has highlighted. (Gallo)

Tragedy has been stalking South Africa's soccer fraternity, as the death of Bafana Bafana's assistant coach Thomas Madigage has highlighted. (Gallo)

Madigage (41) was killed in a car accident in Limpopo on Thursday night. The police's Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said Madigage was alone in his car on the R37 – between Polokwane and Burgersfort – when a donkey crossed the road.

"There was one car towing a caravan in front of him. That car managed to swerve and avoid the donkey but he could not. His car hit it."

Madigage's death sparked an outpour of grief on social media sites and radio shows. Premier Soccer League clubs and players paid tribute to the former SuperSport United assistant coach for nurturing South Africa's young talent.

"I was fortunate enough to have known Tommy for over six years and am proud to admit what an influence he has had over my career throughout," Bafana captain Bongani Khumalo said.

"His influence on my life – both on and off the field of play – was immense and I have no doubt that I would not be where I am today without Tommy and his contribution to my career and well-being."

The loss of Madigage to the soccer fraternity has struck a chord with those who remember the deaths of Gift Leremi, Lesley Manyathela, Mozambiquan national Fernando Matola, Meshack Zwane and Clifford Moleko.

Leremi's death was by far the most shocking given the gruesome nature of his demise, flung several metres from his vehicle while driving on Kliprivier Road towards Johannesburg in September 2007. He lost control of his dark blue BMW 3-series, hit a shallow drainage ditch, climbed a nearby two metre embankment and was thrown from the front seat.

Leremi was nearing the peak of his career, having just moved from Orlando Pirates to Sundowns for a fee of R800 000. He had it all and there was so much more expected of him.

Ironically, Bafana coach Gordon Igesund, who Madigage assisted, was coaching Leremi at Sundowns at the time of his death.

Igesund said at the time that Leremi was relishing an upcoming clash with his former masters at Orlando Pirates.

"I put my arm around him [Leremi] at the airport and joked that he must be looking forward to the Pirates match," Igesund said.

"He was so excited. That was the last time I spoke to him."

Leremi was never far from the headlines – for the wrong reasons. Tales of drinking and partying too much did the rounds with some going as far as describing him as the James Dean of local soccer.

Leremi was meant to be the star of Bafana's 2010 World Cup campaign but that dream ended on September 3 2007.

Lesley "Slow Poison" Manyathela was another star whose life was snuffed out too early.

The 22-year-old Orlando Pirates striker was destined for greater things in Europe where he had just undergone trials with Lyon in France. He died in a car accident hours after scoring Pirates' consolation goal when they lost 2-1 to Jomo Cosmos in the Supa 8 game at the Rand Stadium in 2003.

Manyathela was killed instantly when his car overturned on the N1. Manyathela was on his way to Musina in Limpopo to visit his mother for Women's Day. His car veered off the road and rolled, coming to a halt about 250m into the bushes.

Manyathela's death shocked the soccer fraternity who mourned the loss of one of its most promising sons. He scored four goals for Bafana – and scored 48 times in 73 appearances for Orlando Pirates. He was instrumental in helping the Pirates win the league in the 2002/03 season.

"He may have scored his last goal [then] but the greatest and the last goal he scored was to be a role model to the youth," said then Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba.

Fernando Matola, a Mozambican national who captained PSL outfit Black Leopards, died in a car crash along with his wife and two children in September 2007 – days after the death of Leremi.

Matola lost control of his VW Golf along the Tzaneen/Lydenburg road in Limpopo. His vehicle apparently veered off the road and hit two trees before bursting into flames.

Matola, his wife Sheila Mavila, five-year-old son Fernando and one-year-old daughter Paulo were burnt beyond recognition, according to Limpopo police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Motlafela Mojapelo.

The 25-year-old Matola was driving towards Mozambique, to join the national team for 2008 African Cup of Nations qualifier game against Tanzania.

Leopards spokesperson Tshifiwa Thidiela said at the time that they became worried when Matola, who joined Leopards four years earlier, failed to contact the team's management to confirm his arrival in his home country as he had promised to do.

Back in 1998, Clifford Moleko, a talented midfielder who played for Seven Stars after transferring from Orlando Pirates, died in an accident while driving to Johannesburg International Airport. Just a year later Vaal Professional lost midfielder Meshack Zwane in a car accident.

Then there were those who didn't lose their lives on the road but certainly flirted with disaster, like local legend Doctor Khumalo, Bryce Moon and Jabu Mahlangu.

Drunk driving charges against Khumalo were dropped in 2010 after he crashed his BMW into a taxi in 2008. No one was killed in the accident.

Moon's incident was a lot more serious. The Bidvest Wits player is on trial on charges of murder, alternatively attempted murder, drunken driving as well as reckless or negligent driving. He allegedly hit Mavis Ncube while driving down Katherine Street, in Sandhurst, in 2009. She was taken to the Morningside Clinic where she died. The trial continues.

In 2005 Jabu Mahlangu (formerly Jabu Pule) was dismissed by his Austrian club SV Mattersburg after he was involved in two drunk driving incidents. Mahlangu's life story reads like a bad crime novel, hence the nickname "Ngwana wa Tshwenya" meaning "troublesome child".

It includes allegations of rape and being caught with a stolen car. The FC Cape Town player is trying to rebuild his life after falling from grace while playing for Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs and SuperSport United.

Adrian Ephraim

Adrian Ephraim

Adrian Ephraim is the Mail & Guardian Online news editor. He is a former sports writer and newspaper executive who has been converted to the ways of the hashtag and hyperlink. He is a news addict who longs for the day when it can be delivered intravenously. Political satire is what he lives for - look out for his memes. The three loves of Adrian's life include his masterchef wife, his son who is a Michael Jackson impersonator and Arsenal. Read more from Adrian Ephraim

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