By Kgomotso Sethusha

Thomas Hlongwane - one of the greatest soccer stars to have ever featured in the local football league - is being buried on Saturday, but he will never be forgotten.

"Who's fooling who", as he was known, will be remembered as a legend who made a great contribution to developing football in South Africa, both as a remarkable player and as coach.

Hlongwane broke apartheid barriers when he went overseas to play for Greek team Olympiakos in the 80s before returning to South Africa to help rebuild the then struggling Soweto team, Moroka Swallows.

At the time of his death, he was deeply involved in the development of football as coach for Mamelodi Sundowns' under-17 side.

Extending his condolences to the Hlongwane family, Sundowns president Patrice Motsepe described Hlongwane as "an icon, a footballer who delighted and thrilled millions of people in his heyday".

Born in Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria, Hlongwane joined the professional ranks with city side Arcadia, where he played with the likes of Deshi Bahktawer, Sammy Troughton and Roy Wegerly in the 80s.

Those who knew him described Hlongwane as a humble man, yet behind his calm demeanour lay a steely desire to become one of the greatest footballers ever.

His popularity never went to his head. "He was brilliance personified. Unlike many newcomers at Arcadia, he just walked into the first team and was hardly, if ever, on the bench," says Bahktawer, Hlongwane's former teammate at Sheppards.

"He was a bit quiet and preferred to do the talking with his feet. He was the kind of player who inspired confidence in the team and was hardly off form. You'd be foolish to write him off in a game. He was simply magnificent!"

Following his scintillating displays at Sheppards, Hlongwane joined Soweto side Moroka Swallows for a then record signing-on fee of R22 000, where he rose to stardom.

Swallows had beaten other top sides, which included Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, for his signature.

Former Moroka Swallows PRO Sicelo Mabaso described Hlongwane as self-effacing and unassuming.

"Hlongwane left an indelible mark on the minds of his fans."

Hlongwane was a natural striker and proven goal scorer. His record of 73 goals in one season still remains unbeaten at Swallows.

Hlongwane, who lived in Mabopane, died in his sleep after he succumbed to leukaemia a week ago. He was aged 44. His burial is taking place at Akasia cemetery in Nina Park this morning.