Mafuta - gone too soon

A month ago, I took a leisurely drive to Burghersfort. I was impressed by a massive dam that has sprung up in the area as it could assist the people during these trying times of drought, past huge mining compounds and admired a beautiful casino called Thaba Moshate as you enter the city.

At the T-junction, I turned left and on I drove towards an area called Driekop. This is where my namesake Thomas Mokgalabye Madigage was born. It is also a place where, three years ago to this day, he was buried.

I was met by his nephew Lekau Madigage and he took me to his final resting place. It is exactly three years since Madigage died in a car accident along the road that passes the graveyard towards Polokwane, yet it seems like it happened yesterday.

I have been an am still deeply saddened by the fact that Tommy’s passing came barely a month after we had bid farewell to my former colleagues Mampudi Oom Dan Setshedi, Alf Khumalo and during the same period, former referee Caleb Ngxabane who also blew his final whistle as he took the final steps to the here-after.

Tommy was such a dedicated sportsman, such a hard-working, clean living fellow that when he collapsed in Cape Town during a football match and was air lifted by helicopter to hospital, the whole country held it breadth, then collectively sighed with relief when it was announced that he was out of danger.

But the reaction of sorrow and sadness that engulfed the whole country when news of his passing became known was indicative of the kind of person that he was – a man of the people, loved and hero-worshipped by the local populace, both young and old as well as top leaders across the spectrum, from businessmen to soccer bosses, fellow professional football players and those in leadership positions in government.

Tommy was my hommie. We both grew up in Saulsville (or Phelindaba as some often called our township), him in Black Rock section and I in Selborne Side.You see, Sekhu Street divides the entire township.

Fellows from Atteridgeville used to have a tendency of calling us from Saulsville (Di-barri tsa ko Selbourne Side), but it did not matter, the area raised quite distinguished guys like Carla “Malombo” Sono, Walter Mashaba and former Sowetan showbiz editor Elliot Makhaya.

I was 17 years Madigage’s senior, but the age gap made no difference between us. We all heard about this brilliant youngster whose talents were discovered by Bra Braves and were to be honed at Saulsville Atlanta and naturally we felt proud. He then crossed the Rubicon to join Arcadia Shepherds in town, the same team that produced Noel Cousins, George Matjila, the late Thomas “Who’s Folling Who” Hlongwane as well as Mark Fish.

This is where Roy Matthews and Jomo Sono discovered him and recruited him for Cosmos. And because Saulsville was quite a distance from Johannesburg, where professional football required a twice daily training regime, Mjomana adopted Madigage who was practically raised by Mrs Gail Sono and attended school in Soweto.

This is where he developed this Soweto type of slang, like: “ke cho jwalo”, “wa nthola?” “ke o jweditse”…..whereas here in Phelindaba we grow up talking about “daai man”…..ek se hoezit…..is Dollie…..But I am digressing.

I got to know Madigage better when he broke into the Cosmos first team. I was a journalist with The Star newspaper and he was a scrawny 16-year old but upstart, but boy, could he play? His bravery was unmatched, the natural skills and the ability to take on defenders twice his age made my chest swell with pride.

I enjoyed interviewing him because …..there we were, two simple boys from Pretoria who were making headlines in the big city of Jozi far away from our homes. We sought out each other’s company and although he used to tip me off about stories that made headlines across the country, he was fiercely loyal to Jomo Sono and refused point blank to tell me anything about Mjomana, I guess he suspected that Jomo knew how close we were and would make two and two and deduce where the story came from.

When I went underground in Durban to hide from thugs that had been hired to assassinate me after I had broken the story that led to the Pickard Commission of Enquiry into South African football, Madigage was one of the few people I kept contact with, because I trusted him and he trusted me in return and he used to tip me how the wind was blowing.

But above all, I had long accepted that he was a born leader. He might have been very young, but his parents just did not name him “MOKGALABYE” – (GRANDFATHER) to the uninitiated, for nothing. He was far too matured for his age and I could see back then, that he was destined to play a key role in shaping the history of South African football in one way or another.

Myles Munroe says the world is filled with followers, supervisors, and managers but very few leaders. He further adds that history has produced a legacy of distinguished and outstanding leaders who have impacted the world and furthered the development of humanity. That there were both men and women, rich and poor, learned and unlearned, trained and untrained.

That many of them had no ambition to become great or renowned. In fact, most of the individuals who have greatly affected humanity have been simple people who were thrust into circumstances that demanded the hidden qualities of their characters, or they were driven by personal, passionate goals.

Leaders, continued Munroe, are ordinary people who accept or are placed under extraordinary circumstances that bring forth their latent potential, producing character that inspires the confidence and trust of others. Our world today is in desperate need of such individuals.

Tommy was not the kind of leader who said say ‘I’. And that’s not because he had trained himself not to say ‘I’. Such men as Madigage don’t think ‘I’. They think ‘we’; they think ‘team’. They understood their job was to make the team function. They accepted responsibility and didn’t sidestep it, but ‘we’ gets the credit…. That is what created trust, what enabled them to get the task done.”

Tommy was a hero who kindled a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of our lives for men to see.

We are confronted by distressing developments today than in any previous century, including devastating wars, monstrous new weapons, countless natural disasters, and fatal diseases. When we ask our leaders for answers, most of them throw up their hands in frustration and proclaim to have no answers……not Tommy, he put his head and body on the line and led by example.

Tommy brought hope in a world where drug lords and men with dubious character had become role models for our children. Tommy led a clean life and that is why, when he asked the youth to resist from anti-social behavior, they listened, because he led by example and resisted the kind of life that led to the downfall of most of his peers.

You did not have to belong to the ZCC church to follow Madigage. He was simply a charming fellow with chubby chicks that made you feel you could envelop him in a bear hug. Tommy was a lively chap, so full of life that sometimes it sounds unreal, unbelievable to even think that he is no more.

Easy going and humble, respectful but demanded respect in return. He was the kind of guy who would hand you his last dollar if you asked him, because he felt your need was greater. We still miss you Tommy my friend, I hope that you have gotten used to life that side of the world!

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