- Loved ones of Lindani Myeni have paid tribute to the slain former rugby player.
- Locals and friends from the US were in Empangeni to honour the "gentle giant".
- They denounced claims by US authorities about Myeni.
Friends and family of slain SA-born Lindani Myeni have described him as a gentle giant, who had a warm heart.
Myeni was shot during a scuffle with police in Honolulu, Hawaii, on 14 April.
His body was repatriated to the country last week.
He was honoured on Thursday by government officials, friends, family, rugby officials and members of his community during an emotional memorial service, held at the Empangeni Golf Club in KwaZulu-Natal.
While his wife, Lindsey, was overcome with emotion, the memorial was filled with sadness, love and, at times, laughter as his granny, Gogo Shashu described him as a strong, but kind man.
"Lindani was a big man, he could easily pick up anyone. He had a lot of strength. When you fell asleep on the couch at home, he would pick you up and put you in bed," she said emotionally.
Shashu said her grandson was a family man, who would always make time for his loved ones.
"He always kept in touch with family, even when he was abroad. Even if he was hanging out with his friends or going to a braai, if the route to the braai required him passing the house, he would stop and check in with me."
She said he was humble because, even after his professional rugby career took off, he never forgot his family. She said that, even though they were heartbroken, they were comforted that the country rallied around the family.
Shashu rejected the American authorities' claims about grandson, trying to paint him as an aggressor or an aggressive person.
He would want to talk about life
Myeni's close friend, Celete Asuega, said the first time he met him was very intimidating.
"I was scared because of how big he was. He was massive. But he was also a quiet individual. Once I knew him, how warm he was and how much he valued family and friends, I never looked back."
Asuega, a Samoan national, said there were many similarities between him and Myeni.
"It did not take long for us to get along; we had a similar culture. I am Samoan, which is a small little island, and it is very similar to the Zulu culture."
He said he and Myeni became the closest of friends.
"We became good friends and got to know each other well. He would always lift people up and never look down on anyone."
Asuega said, on one occasion, he and Myeni had to travel to a storage facility in Colorado three times, after Myeni seemingly forget his keys on each occasion, just so they could spend more time together.
"He once made the drive for an hour because he wanted to spend time with me. He wanted to talk about life. He was such a heart-warming person. He is so hard to forget."
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He said Myeni inspired him to want a family of his own.
"He is the reason why I wanted to have a family. You will always be a brother forever, your kids; I promise I will watch over them for you. He was such a great guy, you can never explain what a good person he was. He was like a brother."
Lindani was a pure soul
Delivering a message of support via KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala, Myeni's Hawaiian friend, Bello Silitshena, who was also instrumental in the fundraising process to repatriate his body, said he considered Myeni an innocent.
"Lindani was a pure soul. In addition to all his talents, he had a big heart. He was very selfless."
Silitshena told a story of how he and Myeni were both waiting on US immigration for paperwork.
"I was waiting on my citizenship, while he was waiting on his work permit. We were both frustrated with waiting, but when I got my citizenship, he was the first person to congratulate me wholeheartedly."
Even though he hadn't gotten his paperwork yet, he made it a point to drive out to the suburbs that very day, so we could celebrate. We hugged, he sang beautifully, and we celebrated."
He said it was an example of Myeni's goodness.
"He celebrated my success in the face of his waiting. He spent the night at my house. He just had a great way to make you feel good. And he was like that with everyone. His family. His friends. I'm honoured to have known him."
Myeni was shot and killed by Hawaiian police in April. SA authorities have been struggling to get the entire footage of the incident which led to his fatal shooting.
Zikalala slammed US authorities and called on President Joe Biden and former president Barack Obama to intervene in the matter.