- He was larger than life, a generous, warm-hearted man who cared deeply for the game he loved and the people within.
Tributes have continued to pour in following the death of SuperSport IsiXhosa commentary king Kaunda Ntunja on Monday.
News of the former South African rugby player’s untimely death, at the age of 38, was confirmed by his sister Tando Ntunja in a statement on social media.
“It is with deep sadness that I confirm the passing of our beloved brother Kaunda Ntunja, earlier today in East London, Eastern Cape. As you can imagine, we are still trying to make sense of this tragic news and we ask for your love, care, and discretion as we prepare to lay my big brother to rest,” Tando said.
She also thanked fans of her brother for their love and support of his career, before asking that “you give us a moment to recoup as a family before we update you all with further information”.
The former Lions, Cheetahs, and Southern King’s flank, was the first black SA Schools captain back in 2000.
“It’s indeed a sad day. Our deepest condolences to the family and close friends” read the family’s statement.
Kaunda represented the Toyota Cheetahs in 10 matches between 2004 and 2005 and captained the side in a pre-season game.
“He leaves a lasting legacy to be spoken about in many years to come,” the statement read.
Lions Rugby chief executive Rudolf Straeuli also extended his condolences to the family, saying: “His voice will be dearly missed. What a sad day to lose such a big rugby figure.”
Ntunja also captained the local Lions club side Raiders Rugby Club during his playing days.
After retiring in 2008, he joined SuperSport as Xhosa commentator. His first match was between the Kings and the British & Irish Lions in 2009.
Through his artistry, Ntunja mastered the art of introducing chosen players before a match through moving monologues which made him favourite among the rugby faithful. One of his most famous of these came in 2018 when he introduced Siya Kolisi for his first Test as the Springbok captain as South Africa took on England at Ellis Park.
The poetic praise of Kolisi and his path up to that exact moment left even those who did not know a single word of IsiXhosa with goosebumps, as Ntunja’s authoritative and booming voice blasted through television sets the world over.
In his monologue, he told the story of how Kolisi was raised by his grandmother in the township of Zwide, Port Elizabeth. He also shared how she had named him Siyamthanda, which translates to “We love him”, and proceeded to love him dearly, despite the tough conditions they lived in.
Ntunja told the story of how Kolisi met mentor Eric Songwiqi, who told the young Kolisi that he would be a Springbok one day.
“As the English say, the rest is history,” beamed Ntunja.
“The SuperSport family is devastated,” said Gideon Khobane, SuperSport chief executive in a statement.
“Kaunda was larger than life, a generous, warm-hearted man who cared deeply for the game he loved and the people within. He will be missed by us all,” he added.
Ntunja would add another highlight to his well-stocked catalogue when the Springboks were crowned world champions in Japan 2019.
As Makazole Mapimpi dotted down after he and Lukhanyo Am had left England dazed and confused, Ntunja famously uttered the words “yiBubbly! Shampompo, Shampizi! Izinto ezihlwahlwazayo,” to signal that South Africans could bring out the champagne and start celebrating.
“Kaunda left a permanent mark on the local rugby landscape and we will miss seeing his broad smile and hearing his voice at our rugby matches in future. This is a tragic loss, he left us too soon,” said Mark Alexander, SA Rugby president in a statement.
The Kings added: “Valani ezo bhayibhile! Niqongqothe ezobhekile. Nixwaye iibhatyi zenu. Into ebesize ngayo iphelile. Phumla Zizi!”, loosely translated: “Close those Bibles, finish off those drinks and put on your blazers – the thing that had brought us together has concluded. Rest in peace Zizi!”