The date April 11 has always held a special place in the life of former Kaizer Chiefs defender and academy product Nhlanhla Kubeka as it is the day he celebrates his birthday, for Kubeka who hails from Gauteng’s East Rand. He was part of a group of players promoted from the Chiefs academy in 1999 and two years on he had established himself as a Chiefs regular.
It was on the day of his 22nd Birthday in 2001 that Kubeka was to be a witness to one of South Africa’s most tragic events a football game, where 43 fans lost their lives at a game between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg. Kubeka was part of the Amakhosi’s first team squad in 2001, but was out with a long-term injury and watched the game from the players’ lounge on that fateful night.
As he explained “That day, 11 April 2001, was my 22nd birthday, and the events of that night during the match between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates was one of the most traumatic events I have ever experienced in my life. Seeing fans falling down the stairs, others losing their lives, it was a horrible moment. It was really overwhelming to see bodies being laid out on the pitch,” says Kubeka.
For ever going forward Kubeka will always remember those who lost their lives on 11th April 2001 at Ellis Park as his life is intrinsically linked to their passing, as a pensive former Chiefs defender said “It was the most horrible moment that I witnessed in my life. I could only imagine the loved ones that were there that witnessed their fathers, sons, sisters and mothers passed on that evening how sad it was for them to lose all those members of their families – a horrible moment indeed”.
He is thankful for the quick thinking of officials that night that halted the game after 30 minutes and helped avert an even bigger tragedy by allowing emergency crews to get into the stadium and help with the rescue and recovery efforts. “Officials on the day worked tirelessly to try and manage, calm and settle the situation,” says Kubeka.
Kubeka was part of the Chiefs team on 9 June 2001, when the game was replayed and Chiefs won 1-0, as the Amakhosi emotionally dedicated the win to the memory of those who tragically lost their lives on 11 April 2001.