Swallows Legend Dies

Joseph Rapelego © Sowetan
Joseph Rapelego © Sowetan

Former Moroka Swallows midfielder Joseph Rapelego passed away today at Krugersdorp Hospital, where he lost the battle for his life, after he allegedly tried to commit suicide with a gun yesterday.

Late last night, doctors at the intensive care unit of the Krugersdorp Private Hospital were still trying to keep the former Birds maestro alive. According to a report in the Sowetan this morning, Rapelego (43), who worked as a prison warden for the Correctional Services in Krugersdorp, was treated by doctors in the intensive care unit after being admitted.

Joseph Rapelego, or “Manelo”, as he was affectionately known, was one the Birds' all-time favourites. He was part of the legendary high-flying 1993 Squad, and was referred to as 'Master of the Swallows engine room' that season.

He was involved in the notorious 'lightning strike', where viewers watching the last 12 minutes of a televised Castle Premiership football match between Moroka Swallows and Jomo Cosmos in the George Gogh Stadium, Johannesburg, saw a group of players collapse suddenly after being struck by lightning.

It was the first time in the history of South African soccer that a game was cancelled because of lightning.

Three Swallows players ¬ Jaconia Cibi, Peter Matitse and Benjamin Njemo ¬ were knocked unconscious; lesser injuries were sustained by Joseph Rapelego, Phumlani Dindi, Martial Chimbousou and Andrew Rabutla. Some of the latter were Cosmos players and one was the referee.

Rapelego continued to play for Swallows until 1999.

This morning's Sowetan reports that ‘Manelo’ allegedly sent his 19-year-old daughter Tebogo to buy airtime at a shop in Kagiso.

When the girl returned, Rapelego had apparently shot himself she found her father bleeding on the floor. Tebogo has been taken for counseling.

At the time of the alleged shooting, Rapelego’s wife Nomathemba had already left for work, ironically at the same hospital where her husband was taken.

Rapelego’s sister-in-law Zanele Nkomo who arrived at scene just 30 minutes after the alleged shooting, says: “I received a call from my sister, Nomathemba, saying Joseph had collapsed, so I rushed to their home.

“When I arrived, my brother-in-law had already been taken to hospital but police had not cleared the scene,” she said.

“I saw pain-killers, a bottle of spirit and a gun lying there. There was also blood on the wall.

“We suspect that he was trying to kill himself. But we don’t understand why because he is a nice person and there are no problems in the family.

“He was at my place yesterday and we were all happy and laughing, so we are still perplexed as to what could have led him to do such a thing.”

Moroka Swallows mourns the passing of one of our own, and we wish to send Joseph's family and friends our very deepest sympathy.

May he rest in peace.

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