Some are taken aback that the passing of a soccer ‘star’ who was still relatively unknown in some circles has generated so much media attention; such sadness and grief. Some have questioned the authenticity of the drama. Some have even gone as far as to suggest that this might be state-sponsored propaganda to deflect attention from other, more pressing issues. Is this the case? Is it opportunistic grand-standing by those with vested interests, an empty Public Relations ploy? Is there anything positive we can take from the experience? Let’s take a look.
I suppose this perhaps strange response to the national outpouring of grief is largely because we are unaware of the degree of influence and emotional attachment our popular personalities have in the various communities that make up our society. It reveals a deep polarisation in our country that is still, sadly, mostly along racial lines.
For example, many of my white friends were unaware of the unrivalled appeal of an artist like Brenda Fassie until her passing, and were surprised at the intensity of the national grief her death inspired. Many thought her music was for the uneducated masses and that their eloquent, English-speaking black colleagues – with whom they shared lattes in corporate offices – were as far removed from cultural identification with Fassie as they were.
In fairness it must also be said that I have no idea of the depth of adulation that Steve Hofmeyr or Joost van der Westhuizen commands in Afrikaner communities and I would be equally taken aback by widespread grief in those communities if they were to pass away. Perhaps this is a mark of the lingering legacy of our divisive past. Either way, this needs to change.
That said, this kind of national grief does reveal the depth to which our sporting icons have the ability to blur class divisions, political and religious differences, particularly among those who are soccer lovers. It is not strange, for example, to witness an affectionate but animated discussion about the brilliance of one soccer player versus another or one team versus another between a petrol attendant in full ZCC (Zion Christian Church) cap and star accessories, and an executive filling up his BMW as Charismatic Pentecostal Gospel music blares from the interior of the luxury German car. This, to me, is most fascinating because for those few minutes of banter, all social differences which are so often cause for senseless conflict, are suspended. Enthusiasts engage in unpretentious, human connection, unencumbered by materialism or class.
Amongst the many discussions raised by Senzo’s death are the issues of marital fidelity and the dynamics of romantic relationships. Indeed, yet another socially relevant issue. It was inevitable that the rocky relationship between Senzo and his wife Mandisa, the much publicised steamy affair he had with pop star Kelly Khumalo, the cat-fights and court cases would enter the fray. He was, after all, killed at the home of his lover Kelly Khumalo (former lover of convicted killer Jub-Jub Maarohanye) – a woman he shares a daughter with – while he was still married to his wife Mandisa, with whom he has two daughters. Questions have been raised about his morality. Was he a shameless philanderer or was this a man whose marriage had failed? Had he simply moved on with another woman, whom he clearly loved because he made no secret of his love and affection for her? Feminists have raised questions about the apportioning of blame and vitriol and judgement against “the other woman”, suggesting that this is yet another example of a society gripped by patriarchy and hypocrisy. I know too little of the internal dynamics of this relationship to make a fair comment. Whichever side of the debate one decides to support is quite arbitrary to me. I do, however, hope that we see the very important issues and situational context this event raises.
We have once again been made aware of the devastating effects of violent crime and the illegal possession of fire-arms, and have been forced once again to look at the deeper causes and interventions for the escalating scourge. We have been compelled to think about the socio-economic inequalities which continue to haunt our country, unemployment and the various crises of masculinity faced by our society. Indeed, the passing of Senzo has raised important issues for reflection. But is that all?
So, are there any lessons to be learned from this tragic incident of the passing of Senzo Meyiwa? Will there be any significant changes that will come about as a result of the many issues that have been raised by his passing? Recently, South African Football Association (SAFA) boss, Danny Jordaan, called for a “Senzo Anti-gun law” to be promulgated in honour of his passing. Fikile Mbalula, the Minister of Sport, rendered one of his “moving” speeches at the Meyiwa home in KZN, while paying his respects. Riya Phiyega, our esteemed National Police Commissioner, had another Press Conference. Football bosses and players have posed, grief-stricken, on our various media platforms and talk shows have been inundated with condolences and calls for action. This is to be expected when a star falls. All manner of opportunistic posturing will be witnessed at this time. Will there be significant policy changes that will effect positive social change? I suspect not.
I am moved, however, by what I believe to be a genuine expression of pain and loss amongst the rank and file. It is here that I believe the instructive lesson is to be derived. People seek and find hope in those who dare to seize their moment in time, with whatever talent conferred on them by providence. Whether it is a soccer player, a statesman, a clerk or a street sweeper. It is these individuals who simply get on with whatever vocation they have been entrusted with. They provide leadership and present a challenge to us all, by their unequivocal actions, to act. To act as positively as we know how, in our various areas of influence, no matter how lofty or lowly. This is the lesson the life and death of a man offers. A man who lived through his brilliance on the field of play and imperfections in life. Like a mirror, he reflects us, and the chances we have, back to ourselves. A man called Senzo Meyiwa. Rest in peace, Bakania! DM
All tortoises are actually turtles. Some turtles however are not tortoises.
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