DURBAN (Reuters) - Thousands of weeping South Africans wearing red or black soccer jerseys said farewell to murdered national team goalkeeper and captain Senzo Meyiwa at a packed stadium in the Indian Ocean city of Durban on Saturday.
The mood was in part somber, with red-eyed fans sobbing or blowing into tissues as a hearse carrying the 27-year-old’s flag-draped coffin drove around the stadium, and at times festive as they blew vuvuzela horns and sang soccer chants.
Meyiwa was shot and killed in what appeared to have been a botched robbery at his mistress’s house on Sunday night, highlighting the scourge of gun violence in Africa’s most advanced country.
One suspect, Zanokuhle Mbatha, has been arrested after witnesses picked him out in an identity parade. The 25-year-old briefly appeared in court on Friday and will reappear on Nov. 11. Police had issued identikits of two black men on Tuesday.
“We’ve got every reason to be angry about Senzo,” Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula told the mourners. “Justice is grinding and we will find them. We will never rest until we find all of them.”
Meyiwa’s death came days after the jailing of paralympian Oscar Pistorius for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp thinking she was an intruder lurking in his luxury Pretoria home in the capital of crime-ridden South Africa.
The country remains one of the world’s most violent, although the murder rate been dropping gradually. Police recorded more than 17,000 murders last year, or 31 per 100,000 people - seven times the rate in the United States.
An average 50 guns are reported lost and stolen every day from licensed owners, according to lobby group Gun Free South Africa.
“Lest we forget, this is not the first time that an icon of this nature departs in the fashion that Senzo departed,” said Kaizer Motaung, founder of the Kaizer Chiefs, the main rivals to the Orlando Pirates club Meyiwa played for.
Thousands of people braved drizzling rain in the 85,000 Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, a short distance from the Umhlazi township where Meyiwa was born.
Most of the crowd wore the Pirates’ red or black colors but there was also a sprinkling of the yellow worn by the Chiefs.
Team mates and mourners wiped away tears as they watched video clips showing father of three Meyiwa training, diving to make saves, or pumping his arms in celebration of a win.
Meyiwa had captained South Africa in their first four African Nations Cup qualifiers over the last two months without conceding a goal.
Two other sporting icons died within days of Meyiwa. Former world 800 meters champion and Olympic silver medalist Mbulaeni Mulaudzi was killed in a car accident last week.
Light middleweight Phindile Mwelase, 31, also passed away last week after a knockout punch in a fight against Liz Butler two weeks ago put her in a coma.
Writing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura; Editing by Ken Ferris