Clive Barker celebrates winning the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations final against Tunisia in Johannesburg. / © AFP
Clive Barker, the most successful post-isolation coach of South Africa, died on Saturday after a long battle with dementia, a family statement said. He was 78.
"It is with profound sadness that the family of Clive Barker announce his passing on Saturday, June 10, after a brave battle with Lewy Body Dementia," the statement read.
Affectionately known as 'The Dog', Barker took charge of Bafana Bafana (The Boys) in 1994, two years after an apartheid-induced ban from competing internationally was lifted.
He swiftly changed a misfiring team into continental champions as they beat Tunisia 2-0 in the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations final before an 80,000 crowd in Johannesburg.
Among those in the stadium was Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected president of the republic, who presented the trophy to captain Neil Tovey.
Barker deployed a 4-4-2 system with a defence anchored by Tovey and Lucas Radebe, a mix of skill and steel in midfield, and clinical forwards like Mark Williams to conquer Africa.
An instant national hero, Barker then qualified South Africa for the 1998 World Cup in France, only to be fired before the tournament kicked off.
His dismissal followed poor results at the 1997 Confederations Cup in Saudi Arabia, which triggered media calls for him to be axed.
His departure marked the beginning of the decline of South Africa, who have failed to even qualify for several Cup of Nations tournaments during the past decade.
Football officials have hired numerous local and foreign coaches with little success and the national team are currently ranked only 12th in Africa and 66th in the world.
Barker defied apartheid regulations during the 1970s by coaching teams in the then exclusively black townships.
His coaching career spanned four decades, including spells with top-flight South African clubs, and he won numerous trophies, including the national league three times.
After retiring in 2016, Barker criticised the national team set-up, saying some coaches were imposing foreign methods that stifled the natural skills of South African footballers.