The fall of a legend: SA mourns soccer star Philemon ‘Chippa’ Masinga

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Colleta Dewa

Johannesburg - South Africa has been plunged into mourning following the death of soccer legend Philemon Masinga, who succumbed to cancer in a Johannesburg hospital on Sunday, January 13.

The 49-year-old former Bafana Bafana striker, who was affectionately known as ‘Chippa’, had been admitted in hospital since December last year.

The South Africa Football Association (SAFA) has said Masinga’s demise was a great loss to the game of football and to the nation as a whole.

“We have lost a giant of South African football. This is a sad day and I am gutted. I saw him last Sunday before I flew to Dakar (for Confederation of African Football activities) and although Phil was not feeling well, he was in good spirits. Before saying goodbye, I promised Chippa that I would visit him again sometime this week and now our hero is gone,” said SAFA president Danny Jordaan in his initial reaction to Masinga’s death.

The soccer giant was part of the South African golden generation that won the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations just four years after an apartheid-induced international ban was lifted.

Masinga’s fame spread following his sparkling goal from 30 yards that saw Bafana Bafana beat Congo Brazzaville 1-0 in Soweto to qualify for the 1998 World Cup in France.

Chippa ran on to a pass from midfield and slammed an unstoppable shot over the Congolese goalkeeper before a capacity 80,000 crowd, including then President Nelson Mandela.

The bouncing and high-spirited striker scored more than 150 goals in 328 professional appearances.

Masinga scored 18 goals for Bafana Bafana in 58 matches.

He played for local clubs Jomo Cosmos and Mamelodi Sundowns before moving abroad in 1994 to join Leeds United, then a top-flight English club.

He also played for FC St Gallen in Switzerland, Salernitana and Bari in Italy and Al Wahda in the United Arab Emirates.

Tributes to Chippa

President Cyril Ramaphosa said death had robbed the nation of a dedicated and committed sportsman, who did his best for the nation.

“South Africa, the sporting fraternity, and football in particular, is today poorer, death be not proud,” said President Ramaphosa.   

In her condolences to the Masinga family, friends and soccer fans, South Africa sports minister Tokozile Xasa said she was saddened by the passing on of Masinga.

“Phil belongs to that golden generation of 1996 that won the Africa Cup of Nations. Chippa is best remembered when he scored a goal against Congo Brazzaville in a World Cup qualifying match that booked us a ticket to the World Cup in France. He is among the first players to play in a major league. His success in Europe had inspired many generations of footballers to follow his lead,” said Xasa in a statement.

Political parties also expressed their grief by sending massages of solace to Chippa’s family, with the Congress of the People (Cope) describing his death as a huge loss to the football fraternity and the nation.

“We are very saddened about the sudden passing of Phil ‘Chippa’ Masinga. It is not only his family that has lost this great giant of soccer but the entire country,” said Cope spokesperson Dennis Bloem.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) said Chippa was a hero and a patriot who contributed immensely in raising the country’s flag high through football.

“We have lost a hero on and off the field of play. A patriot who has represented the country internationally,” said the EFF.

Clive Barker, who was Bafana coach when they qualified for the World Cup in 1998, said Masinga was a decent player and a great leader.

"He was an instrumental player for us and I will never forget his goal that took Bafana to France.  I last saw him last year and he looked healthy and he didn't complain about anything. As usual, he was dressed to the nines. He is my third son to die after Sizwe Motaung and [Shoes] John Moshoeu. I don't think I will sleep tonight," said Barker.

Jomo Sono, who is Masinga’s former coach and mentor, described him as a rare talent. He said he discovered Masinga while he was playing football in mining areas in the North West.

Former soccer player and commentator Marks Maponyane said he knew Masinga as a youngster who was determined to be the best.

“We’d sit together and talk about scoring goals because we happened to be in the same area in Protea north when Cosmos players were staying in the area. He was a youngster that always had a nose and ambition to be the best and he was working towards that all the time and that is why he ended up having played well in England at Leeds and having played well in Italy also,” he said.

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