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Tribute to Mafunta - the little one

It was one of those moments in life when everything seemed to come to a standstill, as if birds had stopped singing and even dogs have also stopped barking, when I heard about the tragic and untimely passing of Mokgalabye Tommy Madigage.

He died after allegedly failing to swerve past a wandering donkey at night on a national road between Polokwane and Burghersfort and after knocking the animal, his car is said to have rolled several times and he was certified dead on impact.

It is one of nature's cruelties that the life of a human being can be cut off like snapping a twig. It does not matter whether one is a singing sensation, a bank manager, boss of the underworld, head of a conglomerate....death strikes unexpectedly, anytime....except this time it's so tragic.

I have known Tommy from the time he was in his nappies. Yes, I grew up in Saulsville and like it was the case in townships in those days, we got to know about this lad with amazing skills from Black Rock section. We later got to know that he lived at Ramokgopa Street and played for Atlanta Chiefs.

However, football was dying in my township and even gravel grounds like Matshiga where we grew up getting lacerations when we applied the slide tackle, had been taken over by homeless people who had erected zinc shack dwellings and we started experiencing the scarcity of playing fields.

As the Pretoria Football Association administrators threw up their hands in frustration, many youngsters left the sport in equal frustration. But others, like Basil Gwangwa, the late Eewie Kambule and Madigage, persevered. The latter moved to town through sheer will and determination to pursue his career with Arcadia Shepherds.

This is where he became close friends with Paul Matthews. Paul was the son of Roy who was at the time coaching Jomo Cosmos. When Roy came to watch his son one Saturday morning, he was bowled over by the talented Madigage. He invited Sono to come watch this amazing youngster.

It took Sono less than a minute to make up his mind that Madigage was a special talent. He took him under his wing and Madigage was practically raised by Mrs Gail Sono and attended school in Soweto. But he was so good that Sono threw him into the deep end and he made his professional debut at 16 years.

I watched him blossom and grow as my career as a news hack also took off. We were proud to be small-time boys from Pretoria taking the big city of Jozi by storm. He went to Switzerland, but a niggling knee injury cut short his European dreams. He then returned to rejoin Cosmos.

He used to pass on important information to me when I went underground during the Judge Pickard enquiry into football era when I was marked for death, for exposing corruption in South African football and I had gone to live in Durban for more than a year, hiding from thugs that had been hired to assassinate me.

When I finally returned to Gauteng, I relocated to Pretoria East and discovered that he had also left Saulsville and practically lived a stone's throw from my new dwellings. His eldest son attended the same pre-school as my daughter and at times he fetched the children from school or I would do likewise if football assignments took him away from home.

We went on to share the same offices at SuperSport for more than a decade. And I was proud as punch, when Gordon Igesund appointed him his deputy national coach. I remember teasing him about his ZCC cap, that Issa Hayatou was a crazy man and he must first seek permission from CAF to wear it during the AFCON otherwise he might not be allowed to sit on the bench next January.

Tommy was a genuine guy, very humble and very respectful. But do not rub him the wrong way. He was not afraid to speak his mind. He was not afraid to tackle officialdom but was one of those people who would give up his last dollar to another man, because he felt their need was greater than his.

I feel terrible, but I also accept that only God knows why. And if it was time, I pray that his passage to the other world be smooth and that he should join Ewie Kambule, Jazzman Sono, Shaluza Sello, Bantala Shigo, Lesley Manyathela, Bazooka Seshweni and Oom Dan Setshedi will commentate about their games while Edgar Dassie will write about their exploits that would be captured in graphic detail on camera by the inimitable Walter Pitso.

People knew you as Tommy, others called you Chincha after Kaizer Motaung but I always referred to you as Mafunta which, when literally interpreted in Portuguese, meant the little one, a nickname that came when he mesmerised defenders twice his age. Go well Mafunta and rest in peace!

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