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FNB Stadium deaths — lest we forget

It has been a year since two fans died at FNB stadium. The inaction over these deaths shame our commitment to the sanctity of life and the rule of law writes Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya.

French writer Milan Kundera famously noted that “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”.

Sunday, 29 July 2018, marked the sad anniversary of the day, a year ago, when two men, Johannes Nkosi of Klipgat in Pretoria and Prince Chauke of Bungeni in Limpopo, died attending a football match between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs.

A year later and despite promises by the clubs, stadium management, government and its various agencies to get to the bottom of why this happened, nothing has been done. A year later, there is a concerted effort to forget that the deaths happened.

One does not need to know the Nkosis and the Chaukes to know that forgetting that it happened is not an option for them.

The new South African football season kicks-off next week (August 4) but the Nkosi and Chauke families as well as the many, mostly working class and poor fans who attend football matches are none the wiser as to why the two died and whether anything is/can be done to prevent similar deaths in the future.

The attitude from the clubs, the league, the sponsors and stadium management is that we must all forget about it. It is as though being trampled to death while attending a football match is as uneventful an event as being bitten by a mosquito on a damp summer’s night.

Well, it cannot be. While it is our duty to pray for the repose of souls, especially of those in most need of God’s mercy, we also have an obligation to seek justice for the souls who parted with their bodies because of the wrongdoing of others.

There can be no doubt that if the two families had the means or access, someone would be defending a wrongful death lawsuit claim by now.

The church – as the refuge of the marginalised and the weak – must call on the state to do right by the deceased and their families. Justice should not be treated as a favour when it is a God-given right.

I suspect that the clubs, the league, the sponsors and stadium management and government were relying on what psychologists call “issue fatigue”: that feeling that there are just too many issues and things to worry about. And, that as a result of social media explosion, globalisation and complexity, the world will “move on” and deal with new problems in South Africa and the world.

The power elites are banking on the hope that eventually others will denounce those who “harp on the same subject” for either taking matters too personally or for having run out of other things to complain about.

The attitude seems to be: “What’s a mere two unnatural deaths in a country which according to 2016/2017 annual police statistics, recorded about 19 000 murders?”

The answer we should give to this, is that the reason we cannot get tired of this matter, is that the sacredness of life, the obligation of justice and the defence of the weak, demands that we do not forget what happened at FNB stadium on July 29 2017. It was two deaths too many.

It is our problem as much as it is for the two families that lost their loved one and are now directly affected. The Prophet Isaiah calls on us to “learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan and plead for the widow”. (Isaiah 1:17)

The deaths of the two and the inaction of those who have power to do something about it, shames all of us who claim to believe in the sanctity of life and justice for all.

That a year on, we have not heard anything from our government just because “stakeholders are uncooperative”, suggests a government that is either unaware of its power or one that panders to those it regards as more powerful than itself.

In the process, the shame of allowing the powerful to prevail over the poor continues. Nkosi and Chauke are a mere footnote in the continuing story of black people who die unnecessarily every day.

The failure to hold those in power to account for the deaths of the two men and to plans that ensure that there are no similar future deaths and injuries of people attending a football match, creates the impression that the words in our national constitution about the sanctity of life or the rule of law, are mere platitudes.

The powerful in the form of the club owners, the sponsors and stadium management, are hoping that we will forget the incident and move on. We cannot forget. We cannot afford to – ever –  forget.

Justice is not a nice-to-have. The South African struggle for democracy and social justice is not just about replacing mean white supremacists with indifferent elites of all skin colours.

It was and it remains about allowing God’s people to live in conditions that best allow them to live their best and most meaningful lives.

While the Nkosi and Chauke families are at the epicentre of this demand for justice, it must be made clear that this is not just about them. It is not even about football authorities or their sponsors.

As Christians, and particularly as Catholics, we should not be focussed more on dogmas, and mastering and quoting paragraphs of the Catechism and the Bible than on our love for one another. We have a duty to our neighbour and a Christian responsibility, a human one too, to work for social justice; and especially to have a preferential option for the poor and the marginalised.

Standing in the gap for the Nkosi and the Chauke families gives us and the church, the opportunity to live what the Prophet Micah says that God requires of us. “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

Image: Flickr/Nicole Castanheira

* 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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