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Who is to blame for the chaos at Ellis Park?

Published Sep 27, 2002


The questions about the Ellis Park disaster that have haunted South Africa for a year-and-a-half have finally been answered.

The commission of inquiry into the tragedy has found numerous parties to blame. The final report, drafted by North West Judge President Bernard Ngoepe, was released on Thursday and lists 14 reasons for what happened on the night of Wednesday, April 11 2001 - South Africa's worst soccer disaster.

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But for those who have been waiting to hear who should be held liable for the crushing to death of 43 soccer supporters, there is no clear answer.

The report states: "The commission did not find it in its terms to express an opinion on what conduct, if any, would bring liability, criminal or otherwise, for the death or injury of those affected. We believe other instruments and processes will deal with these aspects."

Among the reasons cited for the tragedy are corrupt security officials; dereliction of duty by stadium personnel; a lack of proper planning; no accountability or clear reporting structures; and 4 000 missing tickets.

It was found that more than 80 000 people descended on the stadium in Johannesburg to watch the clash between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. A stampede ensued and 43 people were crushed to death; 158 people were injured.

Events material to the disaster were found to have included traffic congestion, abandoned vehicles that caused a blockade of the stadium, and poor security.

Crowd pressure at the VIP gate prompted security officers to close it, exacerbating the traffic problem and making access to the stadium impossible.

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When an announcement was made that tickets were sold out and spectators should go home, the outrage created a wave of people that security personnel could not stop.

A security record described people being "thrown from above" and "total chaos, with all gates broken and the place being broken down everywhere".

The report details witness accounts, noting a father's story of how he lost his grip on one child while managing to protect the other against the mounting pressure of people falling against him. The lost child was crushed to death.

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The report found that "a gaseous irritant" - teargas - was discharged during the stampede.

A fundamental cause of the tragedy was seen as the poor forecast of attendance, with no plans to deal with a capacity crowd.

Role-players had also failed to identify areas of responsibility, resulting in security functions either not being carried out properly, or not being carried out at all.

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Compelling evidence also showed that no one was in control - the joint operations centre was present in name only.

The game was started while fans were crowding outside the stadium and gates were being ripped open and vandalised. This was in violation of Fifa and Safa guidelines, which dictate that a game should not start until the situation inside and outside the stadium is under control.

Undisputed evidence shows security personnel accepted bribes to allow spectators without tickets into the stadium.

Some points were unmanned, enabling people to walk through without tickets. This led to pressure on inner entrances that security staff were unable to contain.

Public order police reacted too slowly, and private security guards were hostile in attitude and manhandled fans.

- See IOL's

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