Johannesburg - When Jomo Sono got a phone call at 6am on Friday morning informing him that his “adopted son” Thomas Madigage was killed in a car crash, his body went completely cold.
The former Bafana coach could not believe the news.
“I keep thinking that I’m going to get a call back saying it was all a mistake,” said Sono.
Madigage, Bafana Bafana’s recently appointed assistant coach, was on his way to Pretoria on Thursday night when he was killed in a car crash.
Preliminary reports indicate he was killed between 10pm and midnight on the R37 between Polokwane and Burgersfort when his car reportedly collided with a stray donkey.
Family spokesman Hans Mahlangu said on Friday Madigage had gone to Burgersfort to finalise arrangements for the establishment of a soccer academy in the area.
Mahlangu said Madigage had established a partnership with Italian soccer giants Inter Milan for the establishment of the academy.
“He wanted to establish the academy in his home town,” he said.
Mahlangu said that after meetings with municipal officials in the area, Madigage went to visit his sickly mother.
“He also went to visit a friend before driving back [to Pretoria],” he said.
Madigage, 41, was born in Burgersfort, Limpopo, but grew up in Atteridgeville before Sono adopted him when he was 13.
“My family and I are very shocked and saddened by Tommy’s death,” said Sono.
“After I saw him play I went straight to his home and spoke to his folks about coming stay with me. Once I passed the idea by my wife, Tommy moved in. He was just such a talented footballer.
“We made some great memories.”
A memorial service is planned for Tuesday and Madigage will be buried in his home town, Burgersfort.
Tributes continued to pour in on Friday.
Tshwane’s mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa said Madigage’s death is not just a loss to his family but also to the South African soccer fraternity and the country.
“The city will remember Thomas as a person who had achieved a lot both as a coach and a soccer player. Having played for teams such as Jomo Cosmos, FC Zurich, SuperSport United and Bafana Bafana gave him a wealth of knowledge and experience,” said Ramokgopa.
He said even after his appointment to the senior national team, he continued to serve his local community, adding that “residents of Atteridgeville will surely miss his presence in the community”.
Madigage, who was popularly known as “Chincha”, grew up in Atteridgeville where he stayed with his sister. He played soccer on the township’s dusty streets.
He played for a number of local amateur teams, including Atlanta and Mngadi United Brothers, before moving to Arcadia Shepherds where he teamed up with former Jomo Cosmos coach Roy Matthews.
Former Pretoria News staffer Joe Mokone, who knew Madigage from an early age, said: “It’s a disappointing and sad loss. He was still young and he was a future coach of the national team.
“I coached him at Atlanta [football club] when he was playing for our under-12 side. In fact, he was nine when he played for our under-12 team. It didn’t surprise me when he went on to play for Jomo Cosmos and then overseas. I am disappointed and saddened by his passing.”
Former Arcadia Shepherds team mate Paul Matthews said Madigage was a perfect gentleman.
“You can see from the tributes on Twitter and on Facebook that he was a good person,” said Matthews.
Madigage’s coach at Arcadia Shepherds, Steve Coetzee, said: “He was a great player, he was a good person. His death is a great loss”.
SuperSport United PRO David Skhosana said Madigage’s death was a great loss. He described Madigage’s as people’s person.
“Thomas was a unifier… he did not worry about himself, but worried about other people. He was a deeply religious person and he always had his [ZCC] cap on,” said Skhosana.
The team’s captain, Davies Nkausu, said: “We have lost a legend and one of the best coaches in South Africa. I have lost a brother, a friend and family. In fact we have lost everything. I never saw him play, but from the things he did at training I was certain that the man was good. “
Former Mamelodi Sundowns captain Daniel “Mambush” Mudau said Madigage was one of the country’s greatest legends.
Mudau said he was close to Madigage and that their children go to the same school.
“We used to share advice. He was a kind, humble and honest person. “He was marvellous to watch.
“He had invited me to be a part of the launch of his foundation about a project he was about to do. He contributed to football development in this country. He would go to the villages to scout for talent.”
Sundowns president Patrice Motsepe said on the team’s website: “Thomas will continue to live in the hearts and minds of all football lovers in South Africa.”
Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund said he had known Madigage for many years.
“He was not only my assistant – he was much more than that. He was a friend.”
Igesund said since working together, Madigage had become part of his family.
“You can't get a better human being than what Tommy was. He was humble, loyal, committed and sincere. He was so happy to be a part of the Bafana Bafana set-up and he had so much to contribute. “Tommy, who was a committed ZCC member, still had so much to contribute to the country and his loss will be felt by all South Africans.
“He was looking forward so much to the [African] Nations Cup finals [to be hosted in South Africa in January next year] and it will be very difficult to participate without him.
“We will dedicate our Nations Cup campaign to him,” said Igesund.
SuperSport United coach Gavin Hunt said he was “absolutely gutted” and devastated to hear of Madigage’s death.
“We were more than work colleagues; we were great mates off the field,” Hunt said.
“We spent hours and hours chatting about life; not even football, but more about life.”
Hunt said he had given Madigage his blessing when he was called up to assist Igesund with the national squad.
“He had a meeting with me the day before and he actually didn’t want to go,” said Hunt.
President Jacob Zuma said Madigage was one of the youngest and most promising coaches in the country.
“In the words of his peers, he was an epitome of composure, respect and yet such agility,” Zuma said.
“We remember his speed and agility on the field as well as the ability to shoot and score from a very long distance.” Premier Soccer League chairman Irvin Khoza said Madigage had earned respect throughout the football community.
“We are all saddened to hear the news of his passing. He was such a gentleman,” Khoza said.
“Thomas was a man of few words, but he commanded so much respect among his peers and the players. It’s a sad day for all of us.”
Khoza said there would be a moment of silence for Madigage at this weekend’s Telkom Knockout and the National First Division fixtures. Madigage was one of SA’s most successful footballers, becoming the first black South African player to play overseas. He enjoyed short stints abroad for Glasgow Rangers and Manchester City, before settling down for a longer stay at FC Zurich in Switzerland.