Top flight South African footballer Thamsanqa Gabuza came under fire when he decided to skip his son’s funeral so that he could focus on the MTN8 final, however, the soccer player stands by his decision, and told DRUM that he did what was in the best interest of his family.
Moments after the game, he was beaming with joy as he posed for photos with the coveted MTN8 Cup trophy and his man of the match award.
It was all jubilation for his SuperSport United teammates, after they conquered Highlands Park to win the competition, and for him it was sweet victory, and a perfect send off for his son.
Gabuza, the tournament’s top scorer, was happy, while his heart was bleeding, behind his smile lied a painful secret, that left Mzansi’s football lovers shocked, and many very angry with him.
The striker (32) opened up that not only had his baby son just died, he’d also skipped his child’s funeral as well as the burial all because he wanted to play in the final.
One supporter believed the footballer should have rather walked out from the camp to bury his son. The fan wrote on Facebook; “Nothing is more important than burying your child.” This sentiment went viral.
“Utterly incomprehensible. It makes no sense at all. Worse that he even went to celebrate. How was he able to even function? Was it his blood son? Hay, there are so many things wrong here by my standards,” posted another.
DRUM caught up with Thamsanqa just after a training session in Sunninghill, Johannesburg, and a few weeks after the cup final.
He told the magazine that not laying his baby to rest was the most tormenting and agonising decision of his life.
“It was very hard, I do not want to lie, but at the end of the day it was something I had to deal with as a professional. I believe the way I handled it was the right way to do things,” he said with his voice faltering heavy with sadness.
“I had to separate my feelings and understand this is my job and it puts food on the table. I had to handle the situation the best way I could, while also thinking about the future. I had to make a decision that was not going to jeopardize what supports me and my family," he added.
For him, it didn't only end with the decision he made of carrying on with his training and focus on the final. He said that was the easy part, as opposed to the aftereffects. “The hard part is living with the decision you have made,” he said.
His son, the youngest of his five children, was just eight months old when he died on 30 September, five days before the MTN8 Cup final. The striker’s teammates were left in agony when he told them that his son had passed on, coach Kaitano Tembo told the Sowetan.
“He lost his son on Monday and he never told anyone. The funeral was on Thursday and he never attended because he only told us in the dressing room now‚” Tembo told stunned reporters at the team’s post-match conference. Tembo was also touched and said he would not have let the player skip the funeral and play had he known about it in advance.
“I think he did what he did for the badge . . . He didn’t want to upset the camp because we were facing a very crucial game,” he added.
Tembo dedicated the team’s win to Thamsanqa, but said it broke his heart that the player had remained with the team during such a difficult moment “probably for the team and for me.”
“I appreciate it but at the same time ‘I had to separate my feelings and understand this is my job and it puts food on the table’ I’m also hurting,” said Thamsanqa.
His son had lived with his family in Mnambithi in KwaZulu-Natal, which is also home to his older children, Palesa (12), Dudlana (10), and twins Thoriso and Tankiso (6). He loves his kids so much, he said they are his world and although he doesn’t live with them, he visits them in KZN at every chance.
When he heard the sad news that his baby had died, he was devastated. "The news hit me like nothing else before. It was the first time I experienced such feelings,” he recalled of the pain and the grief.
Thamsanqa’s son was yet to be given a name at the time of his death, and he refused to be drawn into revealing the cause of his son’s death, or his relationship status, only said those matters “are private”.
He was very much aware that his teammates, coach and managers would understand if he pulled out to return home to KZN for the funeral, but he also considered leaving could affect the chemistry of the team and their performance.
He decided to keep his sad news to himself so that the team would remain focused on the game, and nothing else. Apparently, he is grateful that his family stood by his decision too.
“They did not question my decision; they actually encouraged me. They assured me of their support, and it was for that reason I was able to persevere the way I did.
“It was because of their support that I managed to go and play my best game, even with this situation at the back of my mind,” he said.
After the comforting cheers of the crowd had died away and Soweto’s Orlando Stadium had been deserted, as people returned to their homes, there was no longer anything to distract him from his grief. Then his son’s death, and the fact that he’d not been at his funeral, hit him hard. But still he maintained that his decision was for the best.
“The way I handled my son’s passing was what I felt was the right way to do it. It was a decision I made for me and for my family. What comforts me is knowing that even though I couldn’t go to the funeral because of work, my family was there,” Thamsanqa explained.
Before kick-off he prayed and asked God for the strength to play and win the cup, so he could dedicate it to his son.
“I was doing it for him, to show that although I couldn’t be there for him, here is something to show for it. My prayers were answered when we won the cup,” he added.
Paying his last respects to his son in the week after the big game helped too, as did the support from his team.
“The support I got when I broke the news to them was very strong. I got the following week off which I used to go home to pay my respects and fix the things I had to fix,” he said.
Now the storm is over and he is back at the club. “No one expected it. It was a very‚ very emotional moment for the team,” SuperSport United skipper Dean Furman told The Herald. “What we’ve built here at SuperSport is a team that is very close. We’ve just got to remain around him and support him and his family.
“It’s going to be very tough weeks and months ahead for him. We just have to help him through and give all the support he needs,” added the skipper.
Thamsanqa finds solace in football.
“I want to go back to the national team, I want to win the league with Super Sport United and I want to be a top goalscorer. And that takes hard work,” he added.