The late Anele Ngcongca. PHOTO: Supplied
'When a footballer dies, the beautiful game loses a piece of itself'
These words struck a sharp pain in the hearts of the South African football fraternity when the country and world found themselves sharing a loss and mourning the untimely death of Anele Ngcongca last week.
The proud Gugulethu-born Ngcongca was one of the most talented and gifted players our country had ever produced. Not only did he possess talent in his style of playing, but Ngcongca was also a leader on and off the field.
The skilful defender served our national team on 50 occasions between 2009-2016, including at the 2010 World Cup which was hosted on our soil.
He earned his stripes as one of the best right-backs to ever come out of Mzansi. Such that the 33-year-old became a household name in Europe during his nine-year tenure when he played for the Belgium side, Genk.
When the quiet and humble 'Anzo', as he called himself at times, returned home from France where he had a short stint with Troyes in 2016, it came as no surprise that he managed to make an instant impact when he joined a red hot Mamelodi Sundowns. Ngcongca has many accolades under his respected name, including being a three-time PSL champion with the Chloorkop-based team.
He was in Durban ahead of his unveiling as an AmaZulu player after striking a deal to join the club on loan from Mamelodi Sundowns before the horrific accident claimed his life.
"The last time I spoke to him was on the 18th of November. He was telling me about the loan deal he had concluded with AmaZulu. I wished him well and now he's no more," says former Bloemfontein Celtic, Mamelodi Sundowns and Bafana Bafana defender, Thabo Nthethe about the late baller.
"I can only imagine how difficult it is for South Africans to accept Anele's passing and he will be sorely missed. May his soul rest in peace. South Africa will definitely miss him – I already do."
Despite all that he had achieved in his career and life, Ngcongca remained humble and true to his beliefs and values. He never wanted to label himself as a star but rather wanted to be a role model and someone who had the desire to inspire and be dedicated to changing lives in his community, Gugulethu.
Ngcongca was a people's person and he always had time for everyone. He was never hesitant when it comes to accommodating others, especially knowing that it would have a positive impact on his community.
"Anele was a selfless, humble and caring person," Nthethe says.
"Anele was a person you could rely on – he cared so much for those closest to him. He made it his responsibility to constantly check up on me, especially during the trying times in my football career where I have been struggling to find a team.
"We met at Bafana Bafana then got to play together again at Sundowns and we became remarkably close!"
Before his death, he was in his thrills and excitedly looking forward to telling the world about his newly found football team Usuthu where he would have made a noticeable contribution just like he did at Sundowns.
"My fondest memory of 'Anzo' is when he came to visit me at my house in Pretoria. He basically came to show me his new car and the visit turned into a celebration. He had also been longing to see my house since I moved from Bloem and he was happy that he eventually managed to come," Nthethe says.
"When you host someone at your place, you are always expected to play great host and take care of them but with Anele it was the total opposite. He was the one hosting me and offering to do things for me at my own place. That just tells you how close Anele and I were. That visit will always be engraved in my heart because it was truly special to me."
Not only did we lose a talented player, but we lost a great citizen as well. We lost someone whose commitment outside the field of play was to make a difference with our youth.
A precious jewel has been lost and can never be found nor replaced but will always be in our hearts. South African football is poorer without one of its richest, most skilful players and amazing human beings.
Big up to Stellenbosch FC and Mamelodi Sundowns for the touching and hearty tribute to the late star during their fixture at Loftus Versfeld Stadium last weekend. It's befitting that his old team Genk have honoured Ngcongca by retiring his jersey No. 16 at the club, while Sundowns have been reportedly expected to do the same.
Masandawana will pay homage by dedicating all their next 16 games to Ngcongca. What a fitting tribute for the legend!
Lala Ngoxolo. We miss you already.