Dear Aletta,

I had to find enough courage to say these few words – and, in fact, talking about you in the past tense sounds so offish, so wrong, so unthinkable – but then again, it is what it is.

We still can’t believe you are gone.

Ever since news came through that morning that you are no more, not a day goes by without something reminding me of you – and I know I speak for many when I utter those words.

You were very friendly to everyone, sometimes too friendly – but that was your nature, you saw everyone as a friend.
You respected everyone and that is why everyone respected you back.

Your absence will be felt for a very long time: after-all 11 years with the Banyana Banyana kit department is no mean feat – many players, coaches and backroom staff arrived to your warm welcome over the years – and you taught some of us the culture of Banyana Banyana because you were Banyana Banyana.

You are a legend!!

You were perhaps the longest serving kit manager at the South African Football Association (I speak under correction).
You served football as a player – playing alongside Fran Hilton-Smith and current Banyana Banyana captain Janine van Wyk; and later as part of the backroom staff at Banyana Banyana.
You loved football and football loved you back.

You were at your happiest when you were with the team, and it showed in your enthusiasm of delivering your duties – you behaved like someone who was completely new to the team, still excited in a new job: that’s how much you loved what you were doing.

You always kept a neat kit room in camp, because you were very neat yourself – and you asked the same from everyone: players and all those who worked with you will attest to this.
We would travel for long hours to another country and, despite the fatigue, the first thing you do when we get to the hotel would be to pack the kit room neatly so that when the players came to collect their kit, they would find the room in a presentable condition.

You were perhaps the loudest in the team – and that is why I shudder to think what will happen on the first day when the squad returns to camp: when everyone will be hoping to see your smiling face and hearing your loud voice.
I may sound selfish, but I am glad I won’t be not be around to bear witness to the mood on that particular day – perhaps a sentiment I share with many who may not have a choice but are duty-bound to be there.
You were the singing sensation in the team and was able to lift the mood when things were a bit tense.
To this day, your dance moves are unmatched in the team… (maybe Linda and Andile come close)
You took all of us by surprise and perhaps that is why we are finding it so difficult to deal with your sudden passing, which came only a few days after you laid your mother to rest.
It will take a long time for everyone to get used to your absence because the truth of the matter is there is no other Skhokho and there won’t another either.

To borrow a song from Brandy (and alter it a bit…)

Though we are missing you
(Although we are missing you)
We’ll find a way to get through
(We’ll find a way to get through)
Living without you
Cause you were our sister, our strength, and our pride
Only God may know why, still we will get by…

I can only imagine how Ntate Bila (bus driver) and Bra Frans (security) are feeling right now because the three of your were inseparable, you operated as a unit – THE THREE MUSKATEERS!!
Even your little “fights” were enjoyable because they had so much love on the inside.

I also feel for coach Des, Coach Thina, for Shilene, for Fran, for Lauren (team manager), for Fish (photographer), for Lizzie (masseuse), for Janine, for all the players – in fact I feel for everyone that came into contact with you, because you had a special place in their hearts, and they in yours.
You left a deep hole and an indelible mark on many of us – and I want to believe that all of us have something to remember you by – that’s how you were, you wanted everyone to feel special in your space.

Your signature “Wozani bo…” (being shouted across the corridor of the hotel) will be heard no more…
I remember the long trips were travelled with the national and the many and long talks we would have in camp.
Match days were special to you – you were always in high spirits.
And I remember the two of us would travel a few hours ahead of the team to prepare the dressing room. I would watch you meticulously set the jersey so well that when the team walked in they would be impressed – and they never expected anything less.
When you had finished preparing, that is when we would find time to talk about almost everything.
I am glad I was one of those you trusted with your concerns, your frustrations and your hopes.

On one occasion I remember we were in France for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first match – and you said to me:

“Hlokza, I have played this game, I have a team I am coaching back home, I have travelled the world through football, I have worked with various coaches, I have seen several players come and go, I have been to and won the COSAFA Cup tournament (on several occasions), I have been to the Women’s AFCON (various editions), I have been to the Olympics (twice) and now I am at the World Cup – what more do I want? I have done everything I needed to do in football,” and you said so with a beaming face!!
I could not help but be happy for you… because what you were telling me was what dreams were made of.

I also remember when in foreign lands you would speak fondly of your son and grandson, and when an opportunity arose, you would make sure you grab something for them, and you would do it with a smile and a sense of pride.

When I spoke to you last Friday, checking up on you after you buried your mom, you were so so happy. And I am blessed that that is what will stay on in my mind.

I know many people are in pain with your sudden departure – and understandably so because you touched every life you came across.

I am glad I met you and got to work with you.
It was an enjoyable ride – and you ran your race so well
Rest in power Skhokhorico, Inja ye Game, Shuffle, Skhokho.
So long my friend, till we meet again!!