People will walk in and walk out of your life, but the one whose footstep made a long-lasting impression is the one you should never allow to walk out. So goes the not-so-famous saying.
Some 11 years ago, Paul Vantuykom met a young man from Gugulethu, Cape Town.
Paul had never heard of Gugulethu, a township established along with Cape Town’s tarnished Nyanga in the 1960s. Neither had Paul been anywhere near the beautiful continent of Africa.
His closest attachment with the continent was the boys he had taken care of since 2005 when he left a Genk newspaper after 38 years in their employ to become a volunteer at KRC Genk Football Club.
Paul had helped several foreign players, particularly Africans, acquire the necessary documentation to work and stay in Belgium. He had joyfully driven them around day and night as they manoeuvred around the industrial town, located in the Belgian province of Limburg, as they attempted to make Genk home away from home.
The chef in him had delightedly cooked their favourite meals for them including African dishes they had taught him. Paul had stood with them when the chips were down because he understood how the Genk faithful ‘functions’. To some, he had become a brother and others, as years went by and he grew older, a father figure.
A quick browse through his social media platforms will leave any football fan green with envy, seeing pictures of world class football stars like Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois, Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne, Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, you name them.
But the young man from Gugulethu would have his footsteps make a long-lasting impression to a point that when death took him a fortnight ago, Paul would never allow him to walk out of his heart.
“I’m not so well my brother, but I’m trying to keep strong and cherish the beautiful memories we shared. He was my reason for living,” Paul told FARPost moments after news filtered in that his beloved Anele Ngcongca had been painfully taken away in a fatal road accident. A few days later, after several tribute posts mainly on Facebook, Paul would share with the world how ‘the fullback with a coal miner’s spirit’ was etched ‘under his skin’.
“He is under my skin, and in my heart forever,” he wrote on Facebook. “We both got our tattoos on the same day, he did one for Sethu, his daughter and I did his. He was the only person I’d put a tattoo for,” he explained to FARPost.
Anele must have left a lasting mark in Paul’s life. For a man who has had proximity to several football stars, the boy from Gugulethu must have been special to him.
“I lived with Anele from 2009 to 2016, starting when he prepared for the World Cup (2010) until he left for loan to Troyes in 2015 and when he came back for half a year,” he explained.
Without a doubt, the two shared amazing memories together as evidenced by the countless pictures on both their social media platforms.
In fact, Paul singles out the seven years he lived with Anele as “the best part of my life”. It got me thinking what exactly it is that Paul saw or experienced during his time with Anele. The man plainly spells out the attributes that have given their relationship a rare longevity.
“African players are loyal, and once you become friends it is for life.” Such has been their relationship. It bordered on loyalty.
Interestingly, Paul would be texting me during the final game of the season as he followed Mamelodi Sundowns’ game against Black Leopards in the 3-0 that earned them the 2019/20 title. His interest was all because his son from Gugulethu was part of Masandawana.
Besides loyalty, Paul remembers Anele for his Ubuntu (humanity). Anele, at least according to Paul, espoused that nebulous concept of common humanity, oneness. It’s written all over the camaraderie the two enjoyed.
But Paul also admired the dedication Anele exhibited on the field of play.
“Fans will always remember Anele as a footballer who was never afraid to work. In fact, he was so consistent in all his games. He never shied away from taking responsibility, he fought for the badge all the time,” recalls Paul, who never missed any home game by Genk between 2009 and 2016.
If there’s any attribute unarguable about Anele – it’s his humility. Zimbabwean journalist Buhle Ncube recalls her chats with the departed star. “He was so kind and really understanding,” she says.
Sadly, Paul was unable to travel to Gugulethu, Cape Town to witness his son being laid to rest today (December 10) because of health reasons. But as he looks at his left hand, Anele is under his skin, and as he reflects – Anele is forever in his heart. It’s all thanks to Anele’s footstep that made a long-lasting impression in Paul’s life. And so, he vows he will never allow him to walk out.
Lala ngoxolo Tata!
By Mthokozisi Dube