By JOHN ASHIHUNDU
and ODHIAMBO ORLALE
Soccer legend Jonathan Niva, who starred in Kenya's national team up to 1978, died on Saturday after collapsing in a restaurant.
Niva, one of the best defenders Kenya has produced, was pronounced dead on arrival at Masaba Hospital from Nairobi West shopping centre where he had been having drinks with friends.
He retired from active soccer in 1978 after a colourful career with the national team and Abaluyha Football Club, later renamed AFC Leopards.
Mr Niva, 57, was a household name and made an indelible impression on Kenyan soccer. He was nicknamed "Simba wa mayeye (the lion with a mane)" during his heydays in the 1960s and '70s.
He was serving as an instructor with the Confederation of African Football at the time of his death, after quitting as Mathare United FC coach.
The legend's son, Mr Elly Muchama Niva, insisted that his father had been in good health prior to his death at 10.59 pm on Saturday.
A tearful Elly narrated how he had trained with his father on Wednesday and Thursday last week with the Wazee Wa Kazi Football Club for a match set for yesterday.
"My dad was as fit as ever, I trained with him on Wednesday and Thursday, but I missed the Friday session because of unavoidable circumstances," he said adding that the family was not ruling out foul play in the death.
Mr Elly told the Press that he was asleep in his house when a cousin, Mr Ronald Mugavana, telephoned to relay the sad news.
"We rushed to Masaba Hospital and were informed that he was pronounced dead on arrival. We have so far not seen any doctor to give us information about what might have caused the sudden death," he said adding that the family was planning to meet later in the day.
Langata police visited the restaurant where Niva was taken ill and took statements from patrons who had shared a table with the legend.
Contacted, the Nairobi police boss, Mr Geoffrey Muathe, said they were investigating the incident and confirmed that several people had recorded statements.
When the Nation arrived at Niva's home at Ngei Phase II Estate in Langata at 10am yesterday, we found the widow, Grace, mourning with several relatives.
There was a sombre mood on the compound as word had already spread through radio stations of the soccer legend's demise.
Later, the widow and some relatives drove to Masaba Hospital mortuary, off Ngong Road, to view the body.
On viewing her husband's body lying on a table covered with a white bedsheet, the widow collapsed and had to be supported and comforted by her step-son and other relatives.
Recalling his father's last days, Elly told the press that Niva had arrived back in the country last Wednesday from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he had gone on CAF business.
He said it was strange that his father, who had always opposed his emulating him, seemed to have had a change of heart on the eve of his death and handed him a pair of football boots as a present.
"His death is not only a big blow to us, as a family, but to the entire soccer fraternity," the legend's son said.
The late Niva leaves a widow, 11 children and 11 grandchildren.