Lucky Lekgwathi: Papi Khomane was a selfless leader with a heart of gold

Former Orlando Pirates captain Lucky Lekgwathi pays a fitting tribute to the late Papi Khomane. Picture: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Former Orlando Pirates captain Lucky Lekgwathi pays a fitting tribute to the late Papi Khomane. Picture: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Published Nov 28, 2023


By Lucky Lekgwathi

I still cannot believe that Papi Khomane is gone. I now know what they mean when they say life is too short, because just the other day – I think a month ago – I was with him at a Lucas Radebe tournament.

We had a good chat there and I remember saying to him, “Skipper, it is good to see you. You are really looking good.”

I had intentions of taking a picture with him but he left before I could.

And that’s just how he was, a very private person who did not like a lot of noise. Even when we were teammates at Pirates he was never one for the crowd.

‘Loved his private space’

Of course he was not aloof, but he loved his private space and he usually spent a lot of his time during camps in his room reading a book.

If I were to sum him up, I would tell you that Papi Khomane was a very reserved man, very private, honest, supportive and had no bone of jealousy in him.

Professional football is very competitive and that sometimes leads to players being very jealous of one another. Papi was not one of those. When I joined Pirates he was very welcoming, despite the fact that I was direct competition for the centre back position.

He was very encouraging and always guided the ones coming into the club, and loved to teach us not to talk back to those in authority.

After his captaincy, Oldjohn (Mbulelo Mabizela) replaced him. And then when he left, we were at a Vodacom Challenge match and the late bra Phil (Setshedi) offered me the captaincy but I was reluctant to accept it. Papi took me aside and told me, “Ngwana mme (mother’s child) take the belt, we will be here to support you.”

And he really did.

Even at a time when I’d unseated him as the main centre back, he remained supportive.

The coach often used him for matches against teams such as Santos which had tall centre forwards and moved me to the right back so he would play.

No matter how well he had played, they’d return him to the bench for the other matches. Even then, he remained a thorough professional and supported those who were playing. Not once did he complain about being used for specific matches only.

He had a good heart because he was a guy who – when I was not in the team – advised me to not to let my head drop and to not bother myself about the politics that dictated what the team sheet looked like. He told me to focus on helping the team to do well, even when I am not playing.

That’s real leadership.

It was not surprising that he ended up being the assistant. If you asked players who were there during that time, many would tell you just how he helped them to remain positive. Bibey (Mutombo, the former Pirates coach) used to have two teams during training.

The first team he called Pirates and he coached. He gave Papi what he called Orlando (the second-string team) to coach.

But such was Papi’s positive influence that he would encourage the players as a collective and individually, and a lot of them ended up making the first team.

That’s the kind of focused man he was, never distracted by what was happening around him and he passed that on to some of us. He had a great influence on my career at Pirates and I’ll forever be grateful.

Just after he passed away, someone shared a video of him singing in church with his mother, and that helped me to understand just why he was such a focused man. He was grounded in his faith.

I pray that his beautiful soul rests in peace.

IOL Sport