JOHANNESBURG — South African police on Monday launched a massive operation to find the killers of the national soccer team captain who was fatally shot during an apparent house robbery, underscoring the country's high rate of violent crime.
Goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa was killed around 8 p.m. Sunday after two gunmen entered a house he was visiting in Vosloorus township near Johannesburg while an accomplice waited outside, police said. The 27-year-old Meyiwa was shot in the upper body, national police commissioner Gen. Riah Phiyega said at a news conference announcing the manhunt for the three suspects.
Police also raised the reward to nearly $23,000, hoping to get more information to find Meyiwa's killers.
The goalkeeper was shot while trying to stop the intruders, who had demanded cellphones and money from people inside the home, said friend Tumelo Waka Madlala, who was at the house during the robbery.
"As they were running away we tried to stop them and that is when they shot him at point blank range," Madlala told The Associated Press.
Police said Meyiwa was shot as he moved toward the intruders. Another person in the house was struggling with one of the intruders when Meyiwa was shot, they said.
The house belonged to Meyiwa's girlfriend, Kelly Khumalo, a South African singer and celebrity, witnesses said. There were seven people in the house before the intruders entered, according to police. No one else was hurt. A cellphone was taken.
South Africa has a high rate of violent crime, an issue that was raised during the recent trial of Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius, who claimed he shot and killed his girlfriend by accident in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14, 2013 after mistaking her for a dangerous intruder in his home.
National soccer team coach Ephraim Mashaba wiped away tears at a news conference in Johannesburg early Monday as he spoke about Meyiwa, who had recently been made South Africa captain and led the team in four African Cup of Nations qualifiers this year. He hadn't conceded a goal in the four games.
"Most of the time, these things come when you least expect," coach Mashaba said, tears running down his cheeks. "We're going to miss Senzo a lot ... never mind his saving goals."
Meyiwa also played for Orlando Pirates, one of South Africa's biggest clubs.
South African police announced the shooting late Sunday on their Twitter account and called for calm, saying "upset" people had gathered at the house and at the hospital where Meyiwa was confirmed dead. Police opened a murder case.
Orlando Pirates chairman Irvin Khoza called on football fans to help find the people responsible for killing Meyiwa. He said the club and Meyiwa's teammates were "devastated" and were sobbing and crying when they gathered for training on Monday morning.
"Senzo was a good man," Khoza said. "24 hours cannot go past without knowing who killed Senzo ... We don't want to speculate, we want to know who killed Senzo."
South African President Jacob Zuma also released a statement saying "words cannot express the nation's shock at this loss."
"The law enforcement authorities must leave no stone unturned in finding his killers and bring them to justice," Zuma said.
Dean Furman, one of Meyiwa's national teammates, wrote on Twitter: "Beyond devastated at the loss of our captain & friend Senzo Meyiwa. Thoughts & prayers are with his family & friends at this terrible time."
Meyiwa led the South Africa team in its last game, a 0-0 draw with Republic of Congo on Oct. 15 that kept it top of its group and on course to qualify for next year's continental championship. He played for Orlando Pirates on Saturday in a 4-1 win over Ajax Cape Town in a cup competition.
South Africa's Premier Soccer League postponed this weekend's derby game between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, the country's two biggest clubs, out of respect for Meyiwa.
Meyiwa's killing was the second death to hit South African sport in three days after former 800-meter world champion and Olympic silver medalist Mbulaeni Mulaudzi was killed in a car crash on Friday.
Imray reported from Stellenbosch, South Africa. Associated Press journalist Thomas Phakane contributed to this report from Johannesburg.