What you need to know:
- To his family he was the patriarch that always left everyone with a smile
- To his “honest and trustworthy one” — Amina — he loved uncontrollably
- Even at his peak — both at Gor Mahia and Harambee Stars — when Magongo was either in camp or travelling for international assignments, he always spared time to call back home
- When he was around home, he set aside one day when he took over the kitchen and the result: a finger-licking delicacy that was devoured to the last bone
- Magongo’s memories on the pitch might feature once again in their minds but it is the ones they shared off the pitch that will forever be in the hearts of his sons and daughters
Exactly 18 years ago today, a Kenyan football legend breathed his last. After battling bronchial pneumonia for almost three years, Abbas Khamis Magongo succumbed to the disease at the Mater Hospital in Nairobi.
It all came unexpectedly. After spending two weeks admitted in hospital in November 2000, Magongo was discharged with the doctors giving all indications that he was bound to recover. Indeed he showed steady progress but on that fateful Monday, Magongo experienced difficulties in breathing early morning and was immediately rushed to Mater.
“When we arrived at the hospital, the doctors did some tests on him and they told us that his condition was really bad. He died in hospital, it was really sad. We all thought he would recover and live longer,” recollects his daughter Elizabeth Mulisya Magongo who had accompanied her mum and uncle Tom David Malive to hospital.
Death had robbed Kenyan football of the dynamic player who stood at the heart of K’Ogalo’s midfield in their only continental cup triumph to date — 1987 Mandela Cup. To Gor Mahia fans, he was “Oriek” or “Zamalek” — a nickname he picked during the ill-tempered match against Zamalek in 1984 in Cairo that saw him banned from continental football for two years — but to his family he was the patriarch that always left everyone with a smile.
But he is no more. Since he passed away mid-day on January 29, 2001 life has never been the same for the Magongo family. Amina Ndindi Magongo, his wife, followed him to his grave 17 months later — July 4, 2002. She was laid to rest by his side at the Kariokor Muslim cemetery.
“Life was never the same for mum. She sunk into depression after dad’s death and since she was diabetic her insulin levels rose. It was too difficult to swallow the pain of losing my parents in quick succession,” narrates Elizabeth sipping her cappuccino as we settle down for our interview.
The two lovebirds — Abbas and Amina — shared a lot during their life and their last words to their firstborn Elizabeth were also identical.
“Elizabeth, take care of the kids. Ensure that they never lack. Teach them to love one another just as we raised them and to always be there for each other,” Elizabeth recalls Magongo’s words.
As a player, Magongo was easy to love. He had an eye for the killer pass and the knack to score important goals. One such goal was a first time volley from the centre circle that flew past legendary AFC Leopards goalkeeper Mahmoud Abbas during the 1984 Mashemeji Derby and another was the beauty that came off the inside of the cross bar on its way in against Esperance in the first leg of the Mandela Cup final.
Back home, at Outering Estate near Buruburu in Nairobi, he was a “man of the people”. The star who mingled freely with all and sundry.
“Every time he returned from a trip abroad, all my friends would congregate at our home. He always brought us gifts such as jerseys, sweets and toys for all the kids in the estate. Every day was like a party for us. He had so many friends who kept visiting us from fans to his football friends and also neighbours. He was adored by many,” narrates Pillie Abbas Magongo, his last born daughter.
“Every year on December 31, the whole estate would camp at our home. We would crack the fireworks at our compound and all our neighbours would eat and drink with us as we celebrated New Year,” she added.
To his “honest and trustworthy one” — Amina — he loved uncontrollably. He met her at the stadium, Amina was a football fan and he never let her slip from him. He married her and never wasted an opportunity to prove she meant everything to him. He cherished her as the mother of his children.
“Every time I think about them I just cry. I have never seen such kind of love. Dad used to spoil mum, he took her out for dinner during her birthdays and also on Valentines. In the house, they could make funny jokes about each other and even dance for us.
“I remember when our late sister Zuena was admitted at Getrude hospital, both of them used to sleep in the hospital together watching over her. He accepted my mum’s family as his own and even built a house at her rural home in Tala,” said a smiling Elizabeth.
Just like he covered every blade of grass whenever he was on the pitch, Magongo — the tireless fighter and warrior on the pitch — had a heart of gold. He had adopted 10 kids whom he provided for and treated equally as his two biological children — Elizabeth and Pillie.
“He treated us the same. We celebrated all our birthdays and he made sure that we all went to school. We grew up as brothers and sisters. You couldn’t tell that we had adopted children in our family. We still have that strong bond to date. He was also a religious man who taught us to fear God,” said Pillie of her father who frequented Riyadh Mosque in Nairobi’s Majengo as well as Jamia Mosque in Nairobi’s Central Business District.
Ann Nduku, Swaleh Abbas Magongo, Alice Mulisya, Kevin Malive, Swaleh Mohammed, Brenda Mulisya, Dhahabu Swaleh, Rukia Ali and Irene Masiriana are his adopted kids. The latter, Magongo’s favourite among the adopted kids, spoke glowingly of her “real father”.
“He is the kind of father anyone would wish for, he used to buy us gifts, tell us funny stories and he did not discriminate. I only came to learn he was not my biological father later on but I never bothered to know my real parents even after that. Abbas and Amina were the best parents ever,” a smiling Irene recounts amid an amazing glow.
Even at his peak — both at Gor Mahia and Harambee Stars — when Magongo was either in camp or travelling for international assignments, he always spared time to call back home. He had made it a habit to speak to his 12 children and their mother Amina when he was away.
“We could all line up one by one waiting for the opportunity to talk to dad on phone. He knew each of us by our voices, he could hardly mistake you for another. He took time to speak to each of us after talking to mum. He always wanted to know how the family was doing,” said Elizabeth. And when he was around home, he set aside one day when he took over the kitchen and the result: a finger-licking delicacy that was devoured to the last bone.
“He used to prepare some special fish he ordered from Mwanza, Tanzania. That was his favourite meal so he always made sure he was the one preparing it. Whenever dad was in the kitchen nobody dared to miss out. His food was so sweet,” concludes Elizabeth.
Sweet memories of the legendary Magongo will remain with his family. While his achievements on the pitch make him one of the best midfielders that donned the Harambee Stars jersey, his family still struggle to fill the gap left by a man who selflessly put his family first.
If Magongo was alive today he would be turning 63 this year. Perhaps he would be one of the chief guests for Gor Mahia’s Confederation Cup clash against Zamalek at Kasarani on Sunday. Elizabeth and some of her siblings say they will be in attendance at Kasarani on the day but that Gor side will certainly not be the one they grew watching with their dad at the centre of every attacking move.
Magongo’s memories on the pitch might feature once again in their minds but it is the ones they shared off the pitch that will forever be in the hearts of his sons and daughters.
"Innalillah wainna Ilaihi rajiun" May Allah's Mercy be upon you Abbas Khamis Magongo, the perfect family man!