Stampede victims were 'squeezed to death'

Time of article published Dec 1, 2000

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It was the last day of the first term - March 24 this year. Hundreds of teenagers had gathered excitedly outside Throb nightclub in Chatsworth.

During the matinee, sweaty teenagers gyrated on the dance floor while others squeezed to the bar, ordering alcohol and softdrinks. Suddenly the mood changed from one of excitement to one of terror. Instead of music and flashing lights, there was screaming, shouting - and darkness.

A teargas canister had been detonated on the dance floor, resulting in chaos as the 1 000-strong crowd tried to squeeze through the only known exit to get to fresh air outside.

Bouncer Thanasagren Naidoo said he had first thought that a fight had broken out. He had run inside and had found the balustrade wall had collapsed, trapping children underneath.

Others were pushing down the stairs and jumping over the top balustrade onto the broken wall.

"The children were just running on top of the others and I tried to stop them."

This is the picture painted this week at the trial of Selvan Dogman Naidoo, Vincent Pillay and Sivanathan Bolton Chetty, who each face 13 charges of murder, 54 charges of assault with intention to do grievous bodily harm and a charge of contravening the teargas act.

Dr Mohammed Ayoob Dada, who specialises in forensic pathology, supervised the post-mortems of 12 of the dead. He explained in Thursday how traumatic, or crush, asphyxia was the cause of death.

Symptoms of this include the crushing of the chest or abdomen by a heavy object, blood being pushed upwards towards the face and shoulders, and internal organ damage - literally being squeezed to death.

Sameshnie Pillay, 15, stood in the witness box and calmly described the scene.

Having been injured, she tried to find a way out of the club. She saw the crumbled wall and children lying on top of one another and realised that to get out she would have climb over them. "I couldn't help them, I couldn't help myself," she said.

Therushia Moodley was dwarfed by the witness box, looking much younger than her 16 years. She told how the children had just started running and so she had joined in. She had tripped and had fallen. She had lost consciousness and had woken up four days later.

"I was attached to a life support machine in the intensive care unit for five days," she said.

Moodley, who had been a sports fanatic before the incident, will never run again. Her leg was broken in two places and had suffered some burns. Plastic surgery had been necessary to repair the burns, but the emotional scars are much deeper.

The girls witnessed death in a place that should have brought them laughter and enjoyment, and the Chatsworth community want answers.

Mainly men sat in the gallery, carrying the support of the community with them.

For many of the families who were directly affected, the evidence has been too emotional and the grief too much. They have preferred to wait at home, hoping justice will be done.

Jane Pillay sat outside the court during the lunch break, trying to control the flow of tears. Her grandson Preston Premsingh was one of the 13 killed.

"I am very sad, that is why I am here and have to be here," she explained.

Comforting her was Thomas Roy. "Give her some space, she has had an emotional time."

He too lost a relative, Gurasha Naidoo, 15.

"I have to be here for my family, and also to see that justice is done," he said.

A picture of conflicting stories has been painted - power, blackmail, drugs, attempted murder and deceit. Dayalan Pillay, who was originally arrested, has become a state witness and is now in a witness protection programme.

His freedom depends on him telling the truth and on Justice Jan Hugo believing that truth.

Pillay has alleged that as the manager of the Silver Slipper, Chetty had come up with the teargas idea to convince children that Throb was unsafe so they would go to his club.

He alleges that Chetty gave Vincent Pillay R170 and a cellular phone as payment for the job.

He also alleges that R70 was given to Pillay's wife.

Vincent Pillay's stepfather, Poobalan Pillay, admitted that Vincent had smoked mandrax. He also alleged that Chetty had offered him R70 000 and half a packet of mandrax so that he would convince Vincent Pillay not to testify against Chetty.

The defence has woven another story into the trial. Advocate Jimmy Howse spoke of police intimidation and of gang influence.

Howse alleged that a well-known Chatsworth gang whose modus operandi had been to create a diversion and then rob teenagers at discos, had teargas in its possession at about the time of the incident.

Defence for Naidoo and Vincent Pillay, Advocate Colin Steyn, had been quiet on the previous days. He cross-examined witnesses for the first time on Thursday.

The accused have barely changed their facial expressions during court proceedings.

Naidoo twitched in his seat and Pillay stared forward, pulling at his beard.

Chetty sat away from the other two, frantically scribbling notes for his defence.

During the adjournment, Naidoo and Vincent Pillay pulled faces, laughing and joking with Dayalan Pillay.

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