Johannesburg – Forty-year-old Dennis Lota was on the Moroka Swallows bench in his capacity as assistant coach during his team's 2-0 Premier League defeat against Kaizer Chiefs at the Dobsonville Stadium on Friday night.
Little more than 72 hours later, the news of the death of the celebrated former Zambian international striker was received by the local soccer fraternity with disbelief.
“It was for me like hearing that a good friend had been killed in a plane crash,” said Swallows managing-director Leon Prins.
“I just burst into tears. There had been no inkling whatsoever that Dennis was not well.
“He had recently been back to Zambia to attend a coaching course. I don't know whether he could have picked up some bug somewhere along the way.
“At the Chiefs' game, he was his usual self, knowledgeable in all his comments and giving the players good advice as to how they should approach the second period during the half-time break.”
The Swallows managing-director rated Lota, who performed most notably for Orlando Pirates and Swallows among other clubs in the PSL, as one of the five best strikers to have graced South African soccer since the formation of the Premier League.
“But more than that, he had a great insight into the game and demonstrated considerable talent as a coach to match his playing ability, despite limited experience in the role.”
Zambian FA president Kalusha Bwalya, who is rated by many his country's greatest footballer, said he was deeply saddened by the news.
“He was my strike partner, a team player and a humble and dedicated colleague, who served his country with distinction,” Bwalya said.
“I have known Dennis for many years, on and off the field.
“His commitment and dedication to the game, hard work and admirable humility were hallmarks he carried from his playing days to his untimely death.”
Lota represented Zambia in 79 internationals, including four Caf African Nations Cup tournaments. He played more than 100 games for Orlando Pirates, setting up scoring records for The Buccaneers in the process.
“This has been a week of deep mourning for Swallows,” said Prins.
“What with former club chairman Sylvester Masinga's death, as well as a third official suffering a family bereavement.” – Sapa