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When black lives don’t matter

When football fans go to watch a game it should be a relaxing and fun-filled event. For some South African families it has not been. It has, rather, been a day of tragic loss. In the recent past, 87 lives have been lost at football games in South Africa. Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya says that the very fact that government has now squashed the Committee of Inquiry into these deaths and that nobody has been held accountable, shows that powerful people believe that they are above the law and don’t care about black lives.

Football authorities in South Africa have become a power unto themselves. And that is not good news.

News that the Sports Ministry has decided to kill the Ministerial Committee of Inquiry probing the deaths of two fans who died in a stampede at the FNB Stadium during a match between perennial rivals Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, confirms the sad reality that the clubs think themselves as untouchable and unaccountable.

Last weekend, Sports Minister Tokozile Xasa posted a notice in the Government Gazette, which read: “The Department of Sport and Recreation South Africa has filed a notice of intention to withdraw the earlier published Government Gazette notice on the establishment of a Ministerial Committee of Inquiry into the deaths of spectators at FNB Stadium during the match of Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs.

“The Department has noted with concern the lack of cooperation necessary to execute the mandate of such an Inquiry by key role players.

“As Inquiries of this nature rely largely on the cooperation of the affected stakeholders and there has been active opposition on this one‚ the Department found it necessary to withdraw the current notice and to review other available legal instruments and to vigorously pursue the matter further through other law enforcement agencies to ensure that the interests of justice for the families of the deceased are served‚ as well as to ensure that the relevant laws of the Republic are respected and observed.

“The Department will take it upon itself to pursue this matter further with other law enforcement agencies and to explore other intra-governmental instruments to ensure that the matter is still fully investigated and that where necessary justice is served appropriately.”

The stadium management chief executive, Jacques Grobbelaar, released a statement immediately after the deaths in which he suggested that fake tickets might have contributed to the tragedy.

“It is alleged that people with fake tickets tried to force their way into the stadium which led to the stampede. But those are just allegations at this stage.” Grobbelaar added that 19 people, including a child, had sustained injuries.

You would think the incident would change how things are done. It has not.

As a fan who attends the vast majority of Orlando Pirates home games at Orlando Stadium, I am painfully aware of how uninterested the police and the club are to curb the sale of fake tickets.

You can go to any game on any day and if like me, you park at least 200m from the stadium, you would have been accosted by at least 10 fake ticket sellers by the time you reach the turnstiles.

It is usually the same faces, suggesting that they know they have a market. If I know they are selling fake tickets, surely the authorities know too. If they do not, then our problems are greater than I imagined. It is thus safe to say that football authorities do not care. What is more, to them, Black Lives Don’t Matter.

Football is the game of the masses in South Africa. It is the closest it comes to the belief that sport has replaced religion as the opiate of the masses.

The indifference with which clubs treat the fans is therefore a spit on the hand that feeds the clubs and their millionaire owners who could not give a damn.

Pirates and Chiefs continue to get away with minimal responsibility towards the communities that make them wealthy because they treat fans as nothing more than a means to their enrichment.

One would have thought that clubs such as these, with massive followings who regularly have a star player coming from one of our neighbouring countries, would be at the forefront of campaigns against xenophobia.

Last year’s tragedy was the third involving the two clubs in recent years. On April 11 2001, 43 people died during a stampede at Ellis Park stadium. Ten years earlier, 42 fans lost their lives during a friendly match at the Oppenheimer Stadium in Orkney.

To date, 87 deaths later, no one has ever been found criminally culpable for these unnecessary deaths. It is therefore no great wonder that “key stakeholders” feel it beneath them to co-operate with the government department.

The rule of law and the principle of accountability requires that government makes good its promise “to review other available legal instruments and to vigorously pursue the matter further through other law enforcement agencies to ensure that the interests of justice for the families of the deceased are served‚ as well as to ensure that the relevant laws of the Republic are respected and observed”.

If the state does not, it will not only be conceding that the “stakeholders” are above the law, but that they have also failed to protect the poor and the vulnerable from the Goliath that is the clubs, sponsors, law enforcement agencies and stadium management. All of them have failed to account for why the simple act of wanting to watch a football match should end so tragically.

Image: John Karwoski

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya
Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury, The Witness and Sowetan and a senior journalist at many other mainstream South African newspapers.

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