Yvonne Phiri lived passionately

Linda Moreotsene

Linda Moreotsene

The death of rising netball star, 21-year-old Yvonne Phiri, in a car accident last Saturday has cast a cloud of gloom over the South African netball community, her family and her teammates.

Phiri, born on May 24 in 1985 in Rustenburg, was on her way home to Hartebeespoort from a national training camp in Pretoria when the car in which she was travelling crashed outside Rustenburg. She died at the scene.

As messages of sympathy poured in this week, the most poignant came from the woman credited with discovering her, national coach Burta de Kock.

"The fact that she was coming from a training camp defines how Yvonne conducted her life - passionate, dedicated and disciplined," De Kock said.

She told of how she first spotted Phiri playing in an inter-school tournament three years ago, and got her into her team and into the University of Free State.

"She was this young kid, very aggressive and willing to learn and do what you asked of her. We are absolutely devastated and the players are all engulfed in sorrow. We will hold a memorial service to say goodbye tomorrow at the university auditorium," she said.

Phiri was due to tour England with the national team next month and would have possibly represented the country at the World Netball Championships in Fiji in June.

Phiri, a long-serving member of the under-21 team, played the centre and wing defence positions.

She was in the South African team that toured Fiji and New Zealand earlier this year.

Nontle Gwavu, her long-time roommate and friend, said her life was touched by Phiri's resilience during tough times and her ability to bring a smile to her peers.

"She was quite a 'drama queen' and loud, but also someone who believed in prayer," said Gwavu. "This is heartbreaking."

Moss Mashishi, president of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, also paid tribute to Phiri.

He said the accident had robbed the country of "an astute athlete destined for greater heights. As the sport fraternity and the whole nation mourns, the major challenge ahead of us is to assume responsibility and provide young people with an avenue to adopt healthy lifestyles."

Mimi Mthethwa, president of Netball South Africa (NSA), said: "Yvonne was a key player in the national team and we had great plans for her. Our heartfelt sympathy to her family."

Mthethwa said Phiri had the type of spirit the NSA required from its players.

"She had the right type of aggression and the ability to maintain a sense of urgency from start to finish. We thought she was going to make a major impact, particularly playing at centre," she said.

Phiri will be buried tomorrow in Rustenburg.

The service, at B-Tause Community Hall, Vula Section (Opposite Lethabong sports ground), starts at 7am.