In Memory Of The 43

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To mark the day, we have re-published below a story by Cyril McAravey that first appeared in Kick Off Magazine in May 2002:

To call April 11, 2001, Soccer’s Day of Shame is not good enough. There were corrupt security officials at Ellis Park Stadium that night and their greed played a major part leading up to the death of 43 people.

The Law must seek these criminals out and punish them. Justice must be seen to be done.

Other officials, involved in the planning of the Premier League fixture, were fully aware of the explosive elements of a match between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, yet failed hopelessly to carry out their duties of ensuring the safety of fans and thus put thousands of lives at risk.

Molefi Olifant and his Safa executive must shoulder the responsibility of meting out punishment for this. They, as the governing body of our soccer, have no place to hide.

Going through the interim report of Mr Justice B M Ngoepe, Judge President of the Transvaal provincial division of the High Court of South Africa, on his findings following a probe into events leading up to the Ellis Park Stadium tragedy, fills you with anger and revulsion when you realise that the senseless carnage could have been avoided.

His report submitted to the Ministry of Sport paints a nightmare of events. Estimates of between 80 000 to 100 000 people entered a facility designed to hold 60 000.

I shudder when I read about the fans already in the stadium and waiting to take their seats in the stands when the stampede for the gates began. They were trapped between two surging human waves, one trying to get in and another trying to get out.

The findings show that even after three pre-game meetings that highlighted the potential dangers, the security compliment was slashed by almost half. There were no officials at some outside entrances, and only a few at the inner entrances.

The PSL security officials were untrained and were believed to have been drawn generally from lay members of the public and could therefore not manage a crisis situation.

They were more interested in watching the game than in attending to their responsibilities and some corruptly allowed spectators through the gates after receiving monies from them, resulting in ticket-holding fans being unable to enter the stadium.

The fans themselves were not blameless. The Judge says it is inappropriate to put all the blame on the organisers ‘" fans need to appreciate that their own conduct is as critical a factor as any other in the maintenance of safety and security at the stadium.

Some who had gained free entry resold their unused tickets or handed them to friends outside.

Apart from the Orkney disaster in which 41 people died in a stampede, the report lists two other problematic Chiefs-Bucs matches at Ellis Park Stadium in 1998, when fans stoned police and rubber bullets were fired in retaliation; and at Soccer City two years later when late-arriving fans forced open gates that had already been closed.

The spark that lit the fire of catastrophe last year was when the outer perimeter fence was breached and thousands of people rushed in. Sensing the impending disaster, those seated began a stampede in the opposite direction towards the exits.

A bottle-neck occurred in the tunnel, where fans were crushed to death. Others fell to their death from the top tier of the stand.

The terms of Justice Ngoepe’s commission was to inquire into, make findings and report on matters, not to appropriate blame.

The interim report does not include recommendations as to what steps should be taken to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again. Hopefully the final version will provide clear guidelines.

Safa must say what they intend to do about the findings and must do it immediately. If they are shown up as toothless bulldogs, they must be chased away.

One of the victims, Rosswin Andre Nation, was only 11 years old. Like the body of Hector Petersen being carried from the Soweto schools riots, let his name burn into our memories and ensure that he and 42 others did not die in vain.

A mitigating factor leading up to the tragedy was that the match was scheduled as a midweek night game due to a congestion of fixtures. This is an indictment against the PSL; the next time a team lodges a petty objection over a change of venue, let them take into consideration just what their actions could lead to if the matter is not resolved timeously.

In their evidence to Justice Ngoepe, the PSL officials, Stallion security services and the SAPS all claim that the fence was not their area of concern.

PSL security said their job was only to marshal people. Stallion Security, who were identified in the operational plans as being in charge of security, said their task was to man the gates, while police say it was not their duty to guard the fence, but to keep the peace.

According to the judge’s comments, had razor wire been used earlier by the Public Order Police Unit to plug the gap in the broken fence it could have helped stem the charge into the grounds.

There was also evidence that conduct of security company employees was hostile to the spectators. Witnesses said members of Wolf Security had a history of such a tendency. They pushed and manhandled people and showed, on occasions, a general disrespect for the dignity of spectators.

A video tape taken of emergency rescue operations shows that temporary scaffolding erected by the stadium management to channel spectators towards gates 4 and 5, apart from being a safety hazard, hampered an ambulance from getting to the scene.

Ellis Park Stadium has a purpose built Joint Operation Centre (JOC), a room with a glass face that gives a wide view around the stadium. This helps to monitor crowd movement in and around the stadium. That night the PSL representative is alleged to have been present for only a very short period of time.

Ellis Park Stadium has private suites that can accommodate about 10 000 people. The majority, if not nearly all, of these suites belong to companies whose main interest is rugby as opposed to soccer.

In most instances when soccer is staged at Ellis Park, many suites remain unoccupied.

The matter of the PSL issuing of 10 000 pre-season complimentary tickets to sponsors, Castle, was also raised at the inquiry.

Chiefs had objected to the practice as there are no regulations governing when the tickets may be used and the Judge found that it is possible that some these ticket holders could have swelled the attendance figure and contributed to the overcrowding.

LEST WE FORGETThe football lovers who gave up their lives at Ellis Park:

Madikana Samuel Selepe, 39Johannes Mandla Mthembu, 36Johannes Motlasi Letsoara, 35Sphiwa Esrome Mpungose, 13Ivan Jeffrey Bezuidenhout, 39Mbulelo Diniso, 25Veleta Eunice Mouton, 26Rosswin Andre Nation, 11Pretty Lephina Phatsisi, 26Jabu Maliyon Mkhize, 33Alpheus Sethlake, 41Gideon Mudau, 34Jabulisile Xaba, 25Danny Tigerls, 30Angelina Mncube, 28Callistus Dumisani Dube, 29Mduduzi Thomo, 27Tsietsi Daniel Wae, 54Michael Tsolo Nyakane, 41Steven Modise Tshetlo, 42Calvin Arnolds, 34Lefa James LeferaRakgabo Frans Shongoane, 34Ernest Mandla Moyo, 33John Oupa Mbambata, 34Deborah Selina Maphanga, 25Thandi Merrium Thabethe, 23Abel Tshabangu, 35Elias Ngomane, 21Nkosana Elliot Hlongwane, 40Nhlanhla Meshack Zulu, 30Raymond Mfana Gwala, 47Senki Jacob Mzizi, 47Stanley Humbelani Tshikovhi, 25Selaala Pae MalomaGugu MajoziMaggie LuthuliRobert MolakoKenneth MsimangoFrans MoreJabulane Raymond BaloiBafana Isaac MabuzaMampo Rinah Ntsoane