The North West Provincial Government has been granted permission by President Cyril Ramaphosa to give the late Bafana Bafana forward, Philemon Masinga, a Special Provincial Official Funeral Category 2. Masinga will be buried on Thursday, 24 January at Khuma Stadium, Stilfontein.
Philemon “Chippa” Masinga is fondly and correctly celebrated for his famous goal against the Congo-Brazzaville in 1997 that took South Africa to its first World Cup in 1998 in France. But I choose to celebrate him for other heroics, which I was privileged to share with the lanky, affable, humble but deadly striker who passed away over the weekend at the age of 49.
It is easy to forget the fact that in September 1994, Masinga scored a 21st minute goal against Madagascar in Antananarivo in an African Cup of Nations qualifier. That goal, plus a missed penalty by Madagascar, ensured South Africa’s first away victory in a competitive match since readmission to international football two years before. His overriding memory of that match, not televised back home, was that they were nervous but grew in confidence as a team from his goal.
That victory proved a turning point in South Africa’s learning curve of international football as the country went on an upward trajectory that culminated in the AFCON 1996 victory and World Cup qualification.
I also reminded him of his exploits for Jomo Cosmos during the 1991 BP Top 8 final against Kaizer Chiefs, where he scored a hat-trick but ended up losing 4-3. He noted that he could not accept his teammates’ congratulations for his individual feat since it had not delivered the ultimate prize.
I then finally quizzed him about a goal he had created rather than one he scored. In the opening match of the 1996 African Cup of Nations, Masinga had opened the scoring in the 15th minute to calm the nerves of a highly expectant nation and help Bafana take control of a momentous fixture. But it was in the early stages of the second half, with the score at 2-0 following a Mark Williams goal,that Masinga turned on the magic.
He received a pass from the late John “Shoes” Moshoeu on the edge of the penalty area and Masinga, with his back to goal, retuned the ball to Moshoeu with a brilliant reverse pass, a give-and-go, left foot behind the right after which he turned to start his run. Moshoeu slotted in the goal that made it 3-0, sprinkled stardust on the proceedings and announced Bafana Bafana as contenders for the tournament on home soil.
Masinga recalled that move fondly and noted that his biggest frustration about South African strikers, more than their inability to score goals, was the lack of aware ness and a judgment about when to hold up play and bring others into play and when to take on the opposition on your own.
Masinga was a reluctant raconteur of his own exploits. For example, on the mention of the Congo-Brazzaville goal, he simply shrugged his shoulders and pointed out that a draw would still have taken South Africa through, his goal merely served as insurance in case the Congo Brazzaville scored.
His professional career started with Jomo Cosmos alongside the likes of Eugene Zwane and Lawrence Siyangaphi and went on to Mamelodi Sundowns, where he was prolific across almost three seasons in a devastating partnership with the late cousin, Benett Masinga.
Masinga, along with the generation he made his international debut with in 1992, went on to achieve greatness and proven to be the last of a truly hungry generation who were immensely grateful to play for their country and play international club football.
When he started playing football as an amateur, even when made his professional debut with Jomo Cosmos in 1990, he probably had no idea that international readmission was on the horizon. Most of his generation made the most of the gift that history had given them.
Most of the generation that followed them, the likes of Jethro Mohlala, the first player to represent South Africa at all levels from Under 17 onwards never truly grasped the opportunities and realized their full potential, the exception being the likes of Benni McCarthy and Stephen Pienaar, who was driven to reach their highest echelons of the game for both club and country.
Masinga made history with Leeds United as the first African player from South Africa to play for the club in the year of Nelson Mandela’s inauguration, where he was followed and eventually eclipsed by Lucas Radebe. He was nicknamed the Waltzing Masinga after the famed Australian ballad Waltzing Matilda.
According to the Guardian of London, they followed the footsteps of Albert Johannesson, the first black South African to play for Leeds United in 1961 and the first black player to feature in a FA Cup Final in 1965.
His departure from Leeds was hastened by the arrival of Ghanaian striker Tony Yeboah after making 31 appearances. He went on to play at St Gallen in Switzerland, where the late Sizwe Motaung also played, Salenirtana and Bari in Italy and concluded his career in Al Wahda FC in the United Arab Emirates, long before jetting to Dubai became fashionable.
Masinga’s death in relative destitution is both puzzling and disturbing when his peers seem to have sustained the wealth of their playing careers. Radebe towers over all with lucrative continuing endorsements.
In 2015, Masinga told the Guardian: “I made some very bad investments because of a lack of financial knowledge”. He alluded to the lack of education as a factor. His demise unfolded in typical fashion from a life in mansions and flashy cars to the sale of property and a move back to his family house, sale of assets and memorabilia, as well as the use of public hospitals when an “undisclosed illness” later identified as cancer struck.
The role of agents will invariably have to be interrogated, which will be met with a shrug and the refrain that agents give advice and footballers are not compelled. This is inadequate, for agents make footballers invest where they themselves will never invest and a simple but carefully selected share portfolio from the Johannesburg Stock exchange (JSE) and a basic South African property portfolio would have been adequate to sustain wealth.
Masinga ventured into coaching at Jomo Cosmos and PJ stars and pursued business studies with a view to entering football administration. But his steps were at best tentative before illness struck and it would seem no member of his generation was willing or able to help.
It is a poignant end to a groundbreaking and thrilling life and career.