THE death of South Africa's national soccer goalkeeper and captain Senzo Meyiwa, who was shot dead by burglars during a break-in, has shocked the country and turned the spotlight once again on gun violence there.
At an emotional news conference yesterday, Meyiwa's colleagues paid tribute to the 27-year-old, who was hit by a single round in the chest on Sunday night as he confronted two intruders at the home of actress and singer Kelly Khumalo.
Meyiwa, who was shot in Vosloorus township southeast of Johannesburg, was dead on arrival at hospital, police said.
His death highlighted the problem of gun violence in South Africa only days after Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius was jailed for five years for shooting dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp last year.
This weekend's Johannesburg derby between Soweto giants Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates - the club Meyiwa joined as a 13-year-old and ended up leading - was postponed as a mark of respect.The derby is usually played in front of 90,000 fans.
"Don't think such a good man as Senzo can vanish. His spirit will live," said Shakes Mashaba, coach of the Bafana Bafana national side, tears streaming down his cheeks and his voice quavering with emotion. "He would always be the leader."
Even though South Africa's murder rate has been gradually dropping, it remains one of the world's most violent countries, with police recording more than 17,000 murders last year, or 31 per 100,000 people - seven times the rate in the United States.
Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar, who played for South Africa for 10 years before retiring from international football in 2012, also paid tribute to Meyiwa.
"I want to express my sincere sympathy to Senzo's family and friends at this very sad time," he said.
"To lose your life when you have so much ahead of you is tragic. Senzo was a very talented goalkeeper who was well-liked by team-mates and opponents alike. Our nation has lost a popular sportsman and he will be missed."