Patrick Mabedi was pivotal in 2001 on two occasions – when Kaizer Chiefs experienced its deepest, darkest heartbreak – and also when it experienced one of the club’s biggest triumphs.
Mabedi was the Amakhosi’s captain on the night of 11 April 2001 in the Soweto Derby, when 43 fans tragically lost their lives in the Ellis Park disaster during the league match between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.
On the 20th anniversary of that painful night, Mabedi reflects on that evening in his own words.
“In the morning, we had our usual team talk and then had our pre-match meal before leaving for the stadium. When we got to the stadium, we saw it was full. It was amazing to see people come in numbers. If I can recall, there were good players on both sides, on our side we had Brian Baloyi, Thabo Mooki, Doctor Khumalo and Tony Illodigwe, to mention just a few. It was a derby and the derby is always special. It was important for us to win the game. As our Chairman always said it was important for us to win and to make our supporters happy, so that when they go back home they must be happy with a win not a loss. So we had to do our best to win the game for them.”
“Before the game, we went to check the field and the crowd was amazing. We saw a lot of people coming in and the vibe was just incredible. I think that made the other people that were outside even more excited. They were trying to get in to make sure that they were part of the occasion as well. They ended up pushing and climbing over each other as they tried to get in. We just heard the news from the authorities that some people were injured as they tried to get inside the stadium. The game was stopped and after a few minutes we heard that some people had lost their lives. We were so sad and shocked, as we went there to entertain people, so that they would enjoy watching us. To hear that so many people lost their lives was so sad for all of us as players. I just want to again send my condolences to all those people who lost their loved ones. May their souls rest in peace. We will always love and remember them. It is something we don’t wish to ever happen again”.
Amakhosi and Bafana Bafana legend, Doctor Khumalo, witnessed the events unfold from the bench, as he had a dual role that season as a player and as part of Muhsin Ertugral’s coaching staff.
For ‘16V’ that night at Ellis Park brought back painful memories of also being involved in the Chiefs team on 13 January 1991 in Orkney, when 42 fans lost their lives during the Soweto Derby.
“When I reflect on that night, the emotions are very much ones of sadness. I was sitting on the bench and I saw the events unfold behind Brian Baloyi’s goal. It was something very unexpected. I have been part of many derbies and I never anticipated that I would have two gruesome experiences at these games. On that night we scored first and then Pirates equalized. Based on the rivalry between the teams, I thought it was something between the fans when we first heard the commotion.”
“Once we realized what was going on, it brought back memories of the Orkney Stadium disaster. The game was halted and we were ushered to the change room and a call was made to abandon the game. It was a really unfortunate occurrence, as people had come to be entertained, yet it was a night so many lost their lives coming to experience something they loved. For me the 13th January, where we commemorate those fans who lost their lives at the Orkney Stadium, and the 11th of April are dates, that will always be remembered with great sadness and heartache in South African Football”.
For Mabedi and Khumalo, as well as the rest of the Chiefs team and the fans who lost their loved ones that night, it would take a long time to heal and the scars of that night will remain forever.
While the next few months were extremely hard for all affected, Chiefs were lifted to play for the spirit and the memory of those who lost their lives at Ellis Park. The Amakhosi managed to lift their first African continental title later that year in 2001, the African Cup Winners Cup, at the very same Ellis Park stadium.
They defeated Inter Clube of Luanda over two legs in the final, with Mabedi converting a late penalty in the final to hand Chiefs a 1-0 win in the second leg on 1 December 2001 and a 2-1 win on aggregate, which ensured the Amakhosi lifted the cup.
It was poignant that Mabedi rolled in his late winner from the same spot in a stadium where just a few months earlier 43 fans lost their lives.
The joy and emotions felt on the 1st of December 2001 will never begin to counter the despair of losing 43 fans on 11 April 2001, but it was a chance for Kaizer Chiefs to dedicate the victory to the fans who lost their lives supporting the club they loved.
The lives lost on 11 April 2001 will always be remembered and honoured by Kaizer Chiefs and all associated with the club.