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Near Disaster

Text by Joseph Opio/TwentyTen and photos by Nikki Rixon/Twenty Ten

Should we expect the worst in Twenty Ten?

Location: Johannesburg, South Africa

April 11, 2001, in South African football, is as traumatic a date as any. In fact, it is a date that is supposed to serve as a cautionary tale to the perils of football and the near-fatal devotion it attracts all over the world.

Yet, after the chaotic scenes during Nigeria’s friendly international against North Korea over the weekend, many observers will be left wondering whether South Africa learnt anything from the events of April 11, nine years ago. On that fateful date in Johannesburg, euphoria swiftly morphed into tragedy after 43 fans lost their lives trying to catch a glimpse of the famous Sowetan derby between rivals Orlando Pirates and Kaiser Chiefs.


It was a dark date that drew a judicial inquiry, caused much soul-searching in the young nation and even more relevantly, almost torpedoed South Africa’s bid to host the World Cup. 


Quickly declared the worst sporting accident in the history of South Africa, the Ellis Park disaster served as a lethal witness to the catastrophic cocktail that an uncoordinated crowd and poor event management could brew.  


As the horrific scenes at Ellis Park were beamed live on national TV to a captivated public, it felt a bit like driving past a train wreck. We knew the scenes unfolding were harrowing, but no-one could bring themselves to look away. The moral lesson of 30,000 extra fans trying to cram into the already full 60,000 capacity stadium should have remained imprinted on...

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