Former Kaizer Chiefs striker, Siyabonga Nomvethe has recounted the sad memories of the fateful night, 11 April 2001 of the Ellis Park Disaster.
“It is a heartbreaking memory,” remembers the 42-year-oldfootball legend.
“It is one disaster that I will never forget. No one would have expected something like that to happen. I still can’t believe this happened in our lifetime; it is a terrifying to remember that night.”
The disaster that claimed 43 people happened during the Soweto Derby involving arch-rivals Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates that took place at Ellis Park Stadium.
“This unfortunate disaster was a demonstration of how much South Africans support their football and more specifically the Soweto Derby,” says Nomvethe, who played 79 games scoring 42 goals between 1998 and 2001.
“It showed how much people support and love the Soweto Derby.”
Both Soweto rivals were chasing the league title, Tony Illodigwe became the first Nigerian to score in the Soweto Derby game against Pirates for Chiefs when he opened the scoring in the 15th minute.
Benedict Vilakazi equalised for Pirates two minutes later, which resulted in fans outside the stadium forcing their way into the stadium resulting in a stampede which happened in the East wing of the stadium.
“I could hear the turmoil from the stands after Pirates equalised. That is when I could notice that something unusual was happening from the stands. There was more than usual noise from the crowd. It was the first time I saw the supporters jumping over the stands in attempt to watch us from the touch line.”
The game was stopped around the 34th minute by then PSL CEO Robin Petersen after it became clear that there was a problem.
“That’s when we also realised that there was a problem,” says the KwaMashu-born Nomvethe.
“We realised the seriousness of the case when we were informed in the dressing room that a stampede happened, and people died in the process.
“To date I can still see agony in the eyes of everyone in the dressing room, that was when the message was delivered that a regrettable situation had occurred in the stadium,” laments Nomvethe.
“I had never seen so many people in and around the stadium – it was packed. We couldn’t drive out of the stadium. It was a mission to leave the stadium, and that is when we started understanding that the situation was really bad.
“Days that followed were not life as usual. Going back to training was tough. But before that, I remember we joined the football fraternity to respect and give our support to the bereaved families. We visited and paid homage to the bereaved homes. I was still young, scared and horrified. As youngsters, we relied on senior players like Doctor Khumalo for consolation.
“But it took a while for us to come to terms with what happened. I can say that this is one date that I will never forget. I thought it was God’s will that something like that happened and that we must accept it at the same time never forget that people lost their lives for the love of football in our country.
“As we celebrate 50th Anniversary of Kaizer Chiefs, we must not forget that people paid dearly with their lives for the love of the game and this Club.
“It is one hard lesson. This disaster has ensured that the security be intensified at the games. I wish the supporters will look back at this disaster and co-operate with these safety measures.
“My respect go to the families that lost their loved ones. I wish to convey a message of love and peace to them and for the departed souls to rest in eternity.”
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By Kaizer Chiefs