The Story of the Soweto Derby

Soweto Derby 2018 - Beluga Hospitality

For all its glamour and jolly atmosphere, this is a fixture over which the pall of tragedy hangs heavy, both in recent times and in the nearly five decades during which it has been played. In July, two fans were killed and 19 injured in a crush at the gates as they tried to gain entry to the pre-season Carling Black Label Champion Cup meeting between the two.

A total of 86 people have died at the sides' stadia in three separate editions of the fixture, and the loss of human lives hovers like a spectre, robbing the fixture of its true lustre, even as local authorities announced plans to investigate the most recent deaths. This April marked 16 years since the tragedy at Ellis Park, where 43 people died in a crush as tens of thousands tried to break through barriers to get into a stadium that was already full.

A commission, chaired by Justice Bernard Ngoepe, investigated the carnage at the stadium in Johannesburg and produced a report that ran to 130 pages, but concluded it did not have the authority to recommend any criminal proceedings. As such, home side Kaizer Chiefs' Ellis Park management, who it was found argued with Amakhosi over the security arrangements, and other stakeholders, like the police, were never held to real account.

It could be argued that authorities failed to see the warning signs. Just months before the Ellis Park tragedy, police had shot at unruly supporters at Soccer City as fans became frustrated by the late sale of tickets on the day of the game, and the lack of an adequate number of cashiers to deal with the flood of supporters.

The other major tragedy involving the two clubs happened 10 years earlier in Orkney. A total of 42 fans died in the stands at the Harry Oppenheimer Stadium when one set of supporters began pelting another with objects and set off a stampede with disastrous consequences.

This time it was Pirates who got the blame. Their fans were angry with a refereeing decision, throwing projectiles at opposing supporters and then rushing at them. It was a pre-season friendly, set up in the provinces to make money from a soccer-hungry mining community, and again the lack of foresight went unpunished. There was no judicial inquiry in 1991 but rather an investigation that football authorities themselves instituted, which delivered four excruciatingly obvious procedural points for future games. One of them - that stairwells and walkways be kept clear of spectators during matches - is still often ignored in the Premier Soccer League.

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