11 April 2002

South Africa: Ngoepe Provides Some Answers, But Families Want More

Johannesburg — Transvaal Judge President Bernard Ngoepe has blamed the organisers, seucrity personnel and fans themselves for the Ellis Park soccer tragedy which saw 43 people lose their lives in a stampede at a match between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chief a year ago.

In his commission's interim report made public on Thursday to mark the tragedy's anniversary, the judge said no single factor could be described as decisive in causing the disaster that also injured 158 people.

A copy of the report was handed over to a representative of the victims' families at a special commemoration service at the stadium.,

Many of family members present wanted answers and were expecting the report to shed light on who was exactly to blame.

Veli Mpongoso, who lost his son Simphiwe, 13, said: "We want to see the report, someone should take the blame (for) what happened."

Saneli Ncube, who also lost a relative to the stampede said he was ready to move on, but was waiting for investigations to be completed to get closure.

Paul Phatsisi, 73, whose granddaughter died in the stampede -- leaving a four-year old daughter behind -- said he felt much better now that a memorial plaque had been unveiled bearing her name.

He was now expecting compensation.

The South African Association of Personal Injury Lawyers has invited those injured and families of breadwinners who died in the stampede to contact it with a view to launching a possible class action suit.

Association vice president Monique Woods told Sapa any action would depend on who approached it, if anyone.

A colourful plaque, embossed with the names and ages of the 43 victims, was unveiled at the stadium.

The four by three metre square plaque, headlined "Soni Khumbula" or "We will remember you" and "Ellis Park Stadium 11 April 2001," listed the names below a symbolic beer pot, flanked with the badges of Chiefs and arch-rivals Orlando Pirates, whom they were scheduled to play that fateful night.

Speaking before the unveiling, Sport Minister Ngconde Balfour told about 500 people he hoped a similar calamity would never again be allowed to happen at a South African sporting event.

"It is my hope that some answers will be provided to the many unanswered questions that you are still grappling with," Balfour said quoting a special message from President Thabo Mbeki.

The final report was likely to shed even more light on the tragedy.

Pirates chief executive Irvin Khoza and Kaizer Chief's managing director Kaizer Motaung also addressed the crowd.

Ellis Park Stadium chairman Jomo King said lessons had been learned from the disaster and physical changes had been made at the stadium to prevent another one.

In his report, Judge Ngoepe found that the organisers had grossly underestimated the number of fans who would arrive for the midweek night derby.

"No plans were in place to deal with a capacity crowd, let alone a crowd in excess thereof (as turned out to be the case)."

"All the role players were remiss in not adequately taking previous experiences into account in their planning during operational meetings."

Other factors included the failure to clearly identify and designate areas of responsibility, which resulted in certain security functions either not being carried out properly, or at all.

Evidence showed there was a "dereliction of duty" on the part of certain security officials.

"The evidence is compelling that there was no particular person in overall command of the joint operations centre, or of the entire event, who would receive all the information and take a decision.

"Instead, there was a collection of independent heads of security groupings, all of whom, to this day, deny that they carried the ultimate responsibility; nobody had the final authority to issue commands from the centre. This was a glaring weakness in the security plans," Ngoepe charged.

There had also been a failure to adhere to guidelines set down by the international soccer body Fifa and the South African Football Association, that a game should not start until the situation inside and outside the stadium was under control.

Other factors included an inadequate public address system, a failure by the public order police unit to "act timeously and effectively", uncontrolled ticket sales, and traffic congestion around the stadium.

Ngoepe also pointed a finger at the fans.

"South African soccer spectators need to appreciate that their own conduct is as critical a factor as any other in the maintenance of safety and security at the stadium."

Ngoepe said that as the report was merely an interim one, it did not include recommendations on how to prevent a reoccurrence.

This would require further research, consultation and comparative studies, he said.

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