Former Genk and Mamelodi Sundowns right back Anele Ngcongca was killed in a car accident on Monday morning, South Africa's football federation has confirmed.
Ngcongca, who starred for Racing Genk in Belgium during an era of tremendous success, alongside Kevin de Bruyne, Christian Benteke and Thibaut Courtois, died near Mtunzini, KwaZulu Natal.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) released a statement following the accident, but did not name him directly.
"It is alleged that this morning at 05:00, a vehicle with two occupants lost control and overturned on the N2 freeway near Mtunzini," said Brigadier Jay Naicker.
"A 33-year-old man was declared dead at the scene. The driver sustained serious injuries and was taken to hospital for medical attention.
"The circumstances surrounding the incident are still under investigation. A case of culpable homicide has been opened for investigation by Mtunzini SAPS."
Ngcongca earned over 50 caps for Bafana Bafana, and recently signed for AmaZulu from Mamelodi Sundowns, though he had not yet been unveiled at his new club.
"Our condolences on the untimely passing away of former Bafana Bafana defender Anele Ngcongca, who died in a car accident this morning.
May his soul RIP," the national team's official Twitter account posted on Monday.
Ngcongca joined Genk in 2007 as a youngster from South Africa's first division. He was only 19 years old at the time, but rated highly, having gone on trial at Arsenal.
Ngcongca went on to win the 2010-11 Belgian Pro League and the 2009 and 2013 Belgian Cup. He was adored by supporters at KRC Genk and made Voetbal Belgium's Genk team of the decade together with de Bruyne, Courtois, Wilfred Ndidi, Kalidou Koulibaly and Sergej Milinković-Savić.
However, Ngcongca did not quite get the hero's send-off he'd have hoped for at Genk, as he fell out with coach Peter Maes and left the club for Troyes on a season-long loan at the beginning of the 2015-16 season.
After his loan spell at Troyes ended in relegation from Ligue 1, Ngcongca left for Mamelodi Sundowns. In Pretoria, he won three South African Premier Division titles on the spin.
The 2019-20 season saw Ngcongca play his part in Sundowns' first treble triumph -- the Telkom Knockout, Nedbank Cup, and league title.
There was confusion as second-tier Belgian side KSV Roeselare claimed to have acquired Ngcongca's services in July 2020, but his camp denied that this was the case and he remained a Sundowns player.
Ngcongca's agent, Mike Makaab, told ESPN that Durban-based club AmaZulu had recently struck a loan agreement with Mamelodi Sundowns for the services of Ngcongca with an option to bring him on board permanently.
AmaZulu did, however, release a joint statement with Sundowns on Monday afternoon, which read: "AmaZulu Football Club and Mamelodi Sundowns are saddened to learn of the tragic passing of former Bafana Bafana player, Anele Ngcongca.
"On Monday (23 November 2020) morning reports surfaced that a South African footballer had lost his life in a car accident in KwaZulu-Natal. It has since been confirmed that the player is, in fact, the 33-year-old defender Anele Ngcongca who had been transferred from Mamelodi Sundowns to AmaZulu on loan.
"AmaZulu FC and Mamelodi Sundowns FC extend their deepest condolences to the Ngcongca family, former clubs, teammates, supporters, and the broader football fraternity as well as everyone who was touched by the life of this exceptional football ambassador."
In a generation which saw South African players struggle to break through in Europe and maintain consistent levels of performance, Ngcongca will go down in history as an exception to the rule.