‘Darkest day in our football history’

Kaizer Chiefs managing director Kaizer Motaung on Thursday lambasted the media for pre-empting the judicial commission that will investigate the death of 43 soccer fans in a stampede at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg last Wednesday.

“Sadly, unsavoury comments have already been unleashed by a certain section of the media on the causes of this tragedy even before the commission begins it work,” he told mourners attending a memorial service for the victims at Ellis Park.

Referring to the stampede as a national disaster and “the darkest day in our football history”, Motaung also lambasted soccer’s world governing body Fifa for its criticism of the match organisers.

Fifa said on Wednesday it would consider imposing sanctions against clubs or associations which failed to meet international safety standards. Fifa general-secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen said the organisation was certain that some of its regulations had been flouted during last Wednesday’s tragic encounter between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.

The 43 spectators were crushed to death when fans forced their way through gate four in the north east corner of the stadium. A further 117 were injured.

“The Fifa statement yesterday is also regretted as I believe it is not based on submissions of any authentic reports but rather on media reports circulating overseas and I would love to suggest that the decision was taken prematurely,” Motaung said.

However, Orlando Pirates managing director Irvin Khoza urged authorities to pre-empt the inquiry and draw up plans to prevent a repeat of the disaster.

“Justification for this stance would be that there are games ahead, some of which will be deemed to be of an A security grading,” he said.

“New determinations and plans of action may have to be formulated and urgently implemented taking Fifa stipulations into account. The greatest memorial to those who died is that such an incident never be repeated,” Khoza said.

Echoing the sentiments expressed by President Thabo Mbeki at the cleansing ceremony on Sunday, the first female Acting President, Housing Minister Sankie Thembi-Mahanyele, told mourners that they should not seek to apportion blame or settle scores in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Sport events “should not be another avenue through which people lose their lives”, she said.

Thembi-Mahanyele spoke on behalf of Deputy President Jacob Zuma, who was unable to attend because of he was in Gabon attending talks aimed at ending the Burundian conflict.

Mbeki was in Lesotho on Thursday on a one-day official visit.

Thursday’s service was a relatively low key affair compared to Sunday’s cleansing ritual which was broadcast live on television.

Kaizer Chiefs captain Doctor Khumalo and his Orlando Pirates counterpart Thabo Mngomeni lit 43 candles as a symbolic gesture for each of the victims. It was preceded by messages of condolences from five religious groups.

A flame was also lit at the end of the service and will only be extinguished once all the victims have been buried.

Speaking on behalf of the grieving families, Japie Frans, a cousin of one of the victims, thanked the soccer authorities for their support as they mourned their loved ones.

Frans told the crowd that the families welcomed the judicial commission of inquiry and were eagerly awaiting the findings.

It was hoped that it would ensure that a similar tragedy was not repeated.

“The PSL (Premier Soccer League), Safa (South African Football Association) and the two clubs (Kaiser Chiefs and Orlando Pirates) have done so much for us, the rest we must do ourselves,” he said.

“To our loved ones you are all gone but not forgotten. Sleep well, we’ll see you in the morning.”