A new book takes a close look at the life of soccer star Senzo Meyiwa, whose murder remains unsolved five years later
THERE were two things Senzo Meyiwa’s father, Sam, wanted to accomplish before he died. He’d hoped to see his son’s killer brought to justice, and for Senzo’s life to be documented in a book so he’s never forgotten. Sam died without ever seeing justice for his son – but he did manage to make sure his son would be immortalised.
The book Decoding 666_9: The Inexplicable Life of Senzo Meyiwa, written by Soweto Mandlanzi, is already causing a stir and it hasn’t even been officially launched yet.
In it, Soweto reveals how Senzo’s mom, Ntombifuthi Meyiwa, feels about her son’s girlfriend, singer Kelly Khumalo, and how a heartbroken Mandisa Mkhize, the slain soccer player’s wife, dealt with the pain of losing her husband.
It’s been more than five years since the Orlando Pirates goalkeeper’s tragic death at 30. But his murder is still one of the most-talked-about crimes in the country.
Of course it doesn’t help that his killers haven’t been caught. And the question persists: Who shot Senzo?
While Soweto doesn’t have the answer to the crucial question, he tries to give readers an intimate glimpse into the life and times of the talented athlete and the emotions of his immediate family.
“Senzo really had an interesting life,” he says with a sigh.
It took Soweto three to four years to complete the book, which was made even more challenging by the fact Senzo’s killers are still out there. The family is yet to begin the healing process, he says.
While his book is complete, he feels more could be added because “wow, it is a lot of drama”.
Even after five years, Senzo’s death is still so raw that a lot of people he interviewed cried.
“I am certain some of them would not be comfortable with some of the things they revealed once they read the book. Someone who was in the house even says, ‘We all know who killed Senzo – everyone in the house knows who killed Senzo.’
“But I didn’t want to go there, as the intention of the book wasn’t to focus on the murder case but to tell his life story.”
SOWETO started working on the book two years after Senzo’s death, after Sam asked him to meet to discuss documenting his son’s life.
“The family did not know me personally but heard about me. I get featured as a motivational speaker on Ukhozi FM’s breakfast show, but we met coincidentally in Umlazi [KwaZulu-Natal]. “Senzo’s father first asked me to help with finding the killer and I knew I could not help with that. The second thing he wanted was for me to write his son’s life story,” Soweto says.
The first time the author went to the Meyiwa house, Sam had gone out.
“I had to convince uMa that I was not a journalist so she would let me in. Sam was notified that I was in his home and rushed back from where he was,” he says.
Sam, who has since died, didn’t want his son’s name to be forgotten.
He wanted him to be remembered for the star he was on the pitch.
“The first time I met with him, I could feel the pain when he said even though his son’s killers were not found, he would want his son’s life story to be written,” Soweto says.
It wasn’t an easy feat for the Umlaziborn author, who had to interview several people to tell the story in the most authentic way.
“I asked the family who they wanted me to speak to because I didn’t want to take a direction that they would not be happy about,” he adds. “I wanted to take an angle that would heal the family.
“And, of course, my hope was the book would be published while Senzo’s father was still alive but, sadly, he is no more.”
Sam suffered two strokes. He’d spent years making public pleas, begging the police to arrest the people who’d murdered his son.
Soweto wanted to maintain a good balance with the story.
“When I get asked if I know who killed Senzo, I say it is not a question for me to answer. In the book, I wrote what was told to me.
“I would not want to include my personal views – the readers will make up their minds. I don’t want my views to be more important than that of those who know what truly happened,” Soweto says.
‘I wanted to take an angle that would heal the family’
He wrote the book without any financial support, and says it cost him about R120 000 to get ready.
“No one paid me for the past three to four years. It opened financial holes as I would travel and fly out to do interviews, meet people at restaurants, copyright, editing, getting the book reviewed and printing costs included.”
But he felt it was an important story to tell.
ONE of the people who touched Soweto most was Mandisa Mkhize, Senzo’s wife and mother of their 11-year-old daughter. The start of their love story was idyllic. They once told DRUM how they met at Park Station in Johannesburg in 2005 and eventually married in a traditional ceremony in 2013.
When their marriage was on the rocks, Mandisa fought for her relationship.
She told DRUM she had forgiven her husband and was willing to work on their marriage. But two months later, Senzo was back to his cheating ways.
It’s not easy for Mandisa to open up about that time of her life, but with the blessing of the family, particularly Senzo’s parents, she spoke to Soweto.
Sam sang Mandisa’s praises, lauding her as the perfect makoti. She was “humble and respectful”, Sam told Soweto.
Mandisa lived up to what she was painted as when they met for the first time at the parents’ home, he says.
“I think we met twice, on different occasions, at the home.”
They then met again in Johannesburg, also on two different occasions.
“Of course, the first time we met, she is in a makoti-in-law environment so how she spoke came with a level of restraint.
“She does speak truthfully but out of respect for the home and parents, she was softer in how she expressed herself,” he says.
When they met in Johannesburg, Soweto says, she was more expressive.
“In the absence of Senzo’s parents, she appeared to be hurt,” he remembers. “There were times she would cry, reminiscing about the ugliness, the fights and the way success turned against them [her and Senzo].
“In other moments, she seemed strong but in a lot of pain as she thought back to how everything turned out.”
Of all of the interviews he did, this was probably the deepest and possibly the most painful, Soweto says.
“She told me that the mistake Senzo made was seeing her as the girl he met at Park Station throughout their relationship and marriage, so he never grew with Mandisa when she was growing.
“Mandisa wanted Senzo to think about life after the field and was strict about finances. But friends were going out with Senzo at night and suddenly Senzo had become this person who was paying for expensive gifts.”
SENZO’S humble beginnings from the grassless fields in Umlazi to playing for a team that his family were die-hard fans of, gave Soweto plenty to write about. After all, this was about the man who became a national treasure as a goalkeeper for Bafana Bafana.
His personal affairs were tabloid fodder – and there was enough to fill hundreds of pages.
For example, Mandisa washed Senzo’s clothes and would often see receipts in his pockets.
“Even when Senzo started dating Kelly, there were hotel slips and [receipts for] weaves. She would tell him, ‘I know whoever you are busy with is a liker of things’,” Soweto says.
“She would kick him out – he was a man with two women.”
Many of the people he interviewed for the book voiced their disapproval of Senzo’s womanising ways.
And, of course, there was the drama that surrounded his death.
Soweto admits there was no way he was going to write an honest life story about Senzo and not include Kelly in it.
“I tried. She was not open to talking to me,” he says.
It wasn’t easy writing the muchanticipated book.
Soweto recalls how cars would follow him, especially at night, and at one point he received threats in an effort to get him to lay off the book.
But he refused to be intimidated. Now Soweto is inundated with requests for copies of the book, which will be available in bookstores nationwide only after the launch next month.
He hopes he did Senzo’s story justice and will give fans another view of his life.
“South Africans should know Senzo’s life better. And retain his legacy. Perhaps this will fast-track the process of getting to who actually killed Senzo.”