A security officer points a gun at fans after violence erupted at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on April 21. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/ANA

Johannesburg - It all happened so fast. Before Sabelo Maziba could react, he was viciously attacked by a mob of angry football fans who invaded the pitch.

He took a kick to the stomach, which floored him immediately. He then curled up into a ball to try to protect himself, while rowdy fans kicked him until he was unconscious and bloody.

The 32-year-old security guard at the stadium thought Maziba had taken his last breath. He lay unconscious on the pitch before paramedics rushed him to the nearest hospital. As he was taken away, rowdy football fans continued to cause havoc by ripping out seats and setting them alight. They also destroyed broadcast equipment worth millions.



Maziba wasn’t the only one who was beaten up by angry football fans on the night. At least 17 others were injured.

The horrific incident, which sent shockwaves around South Africa, took place three weeks ago at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, following Kaizer Chiefs' defeat to Free State Stars in the Nedbank Cup semifinal.

However, this was no isolated incident, with hooliganism becoming a shameful theme in South African football.

Just last year, crowd violence erupted at the game between Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns at Loftus Stadium.

As a result, Pirates were ordered by the Premier Soccer League to play two home games in a closed stadium.

Football violence in South Africa has become such a problem that Deputy Police Minister Bongani Mkongi told MPs in Parliament this week that football hooliganism was becoming a threat to national security. Briefing Parliament’s portfolio committees on police and sport, Mkongi said he supported a request by Sports and Recreation Minister Thokozile Xasa to President Cyril Ramaphosa for an inquiry into increasing violence at football matches.

Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/ANA

The world has taken notice, too. The incident at Moses Mabhida was aired in several countries around the world. One person who took particular interest in the horror was leading hooliganism expert Dr Geoff Pearson.

Pearson, a law lecturer at the University of Manchester in the UK, was horrified by the scenes that unfolded at Moses Mabhida. South Africa, he believes, is one of the countries most affected by football hooliganism.

“I would say that South Africa clearly has a problem with hooliganism, as do many African countries with developed leagues,” Pearson told the Saturday Star this week.

“There are also problems in much of South America and also much of eastern Europe (for example, Russia, Poland, Ukraine and Serbia).”

Pearson, who spent years researching football violence in Europe, said the hooliganism that occurred at Moses Mabhida was something he hadn’t seen much of in Europe.

“This type of disorder is very rare in Europe, but our research suggests that fans don’t all interpret scenarios like this in the same way.

“I cannot tell you the exact reason why this occurred in South Africa. You would need to ask those fans who ran on the pitch and engaged in disorder why they did so.”

There are multiple reasons why football fans engage in violence, said Pearson.

“Some fans may go to matches with the intention to fight or engage in disorder - if so, they tend to do this because they enjoy the emotional sensation (the ‘buzz’) of engaging in this activity, or they may wish to enhance the reputation of their team, city, or fans.

“Others may get caught up in incidents when they had no intention of engaging in disorder, but feel justified in doing so. But there isn’t a single cause or explanation for football fan violence.”

In South Africa, hooliganism has been limited to soccer, because other major sports, such as rugby and cricket, rarely experience violence.

Pearson said there were a number of reasons why violence was more prevalent in football.

Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/ANA

“Not only do you have to look at the comparative size of the crowds attending, but also the reputation of football, which may draw those who do want to fight to the sport.

“Additionally, this reputation may mean that the police use more aggressive tactics against football fans rather than fans of other sports, which may lead to more disorder. But, of course, violence does occur in other sports.

"In England, we have seen it in boxing, rugby league, rugby union, cricket, and even darts.”

Pearson added that hooliganism in football varied from country to country .

“Fans of different teams or in different countries have slightly different ways of supporting their team.

"For some teams, a history of disorder may indeed be something that is celebrated by at least by some of the fans (even those who do not engage in disorder themselves).”

There were several ways that hooliganism in football could be reduced.

“It’s possible through good policing, improved stadium infrastructure and effective laws and sanctions to limit both pre-organised fights or large scale spontaneous disorder.

“But you will never get to a situation where you can guarantee that there won’t be isolated incidents because ultimately football crowds are a microcosm of society.”

Anastassia Tsoukala, one of the authors of Football Hooliganism in Europe and a lecturer at the University of Paris, believed that football related incidents were usually connected with overlapping identity-related issues.

“Football crowd violence may be associated with the process of belonging to (post)adolescent peer groups that seek to assert their identity in the face both of parental authority and the rest of society,” said Tsoukala.

“It may express political identities, with fans seeking to promote radical ideologies or to express dissidence.

“It may also express religious identities; it may express gender identities, with young fans seeking to affirm their virility; it may express territorial identities, ranging from the local to the national level, and so on.”

Tsoukala said that sports crowd violence tended to happen with the most popular sports.

“Popularity implies passionate fandom, expanded practice of the sport across the country and hence high meditation of relevant fixtures,” she said.

Tsoukala said surveillance-based policing wasn’t effective enough to curb football hooliganism.

“Academic research and law enforcers’ experience have clearly shown that this form of policing has been counterproductive, as it displaced violence and disorder to surrounding urban spaces and radicalised fans’ behaviour, and is undemocratic due to its propensity to jeopardise the rule of law and fans’ rights and liberties.”

Football crowd violence may be effectively countered “only through long-term social preventive policies," the author said.

The Saturday Star