Mbeki, Lewis mourn stadium stampede victims
Mbeki, Lewis mourn stadium stampede victims

Posted in News on Apr 16, 2001.

President Thabo Mbeki and world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis joined mourners attending Sunday's cleansing and wreath-laying ceremony for the 43 victims of Wednesday's soccer disaster at Ellis Park stadium.

Bouquets were scattered across the field where on Wednesday emergency workers had laid out the bodies of the 43 people, including two boys aged 11 and 13, killed in a crush.

"Too many in our country die from unnatural causes," Mbeki said before he and his wife, Zanele, laid a pair of white wreaths on the field close to the gate where most victims died.

"They die from crime. They die from road accidents. They die at places of work. Too many die from unnatural causes. We should not add to that by having people die at places of the celebration of life, such as our sports competitions," he said.

Mbeki on Thursday appointed a judge to conduct an inquiry into the cause of the accident 33 minutes into the first half of an evening match between the country's top teams, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.

He said on Sunday the inquiry would not seek to lay blame, but to ensure that last week's disaster is never repeated.

"This is a sad and very tragic moment. Over this stadium hangs heavy emotion, a lot of pain and anger," said Danny Jordaan, chief executive officer of the South African Football Association.

Jordaan, who is heading South Africa's bid to host the 2010 World Cup final, said he would await the outcome of the judicial inquiry before proposing remedies.

Sunday newspapers highlighted a growing row over responsibility for the disaster, with police, stadium managers and the clubs trading allegations of negligence.

Witnesses and reporters told Reuters on Wednesday that most of the victims had died in a surge after the stadium was declared full and gates were locked.

An estimated 15,000 people, some claiming to have tickets, pressed against gates, one of which fell, trapping dozens of people who died as the mob ran over them.

On Sunday, members of the two teams and their support clubs sat on the pitch and in the stands as a small crowd gathered for what organisers said was a ritual ceremony to clear the stadium of bad spirits and to reclaim the spirits of the dead.

Priests and leaders of several religious denominations walked through the stadium, using bunches of leaves or branches to sprinkle cleansing water in areas where people died and where the bodies were laid out.

Organisers had prepared for about 30,000 people, but fewer than 5,000 braved light rain to attend the ceremony.

Several women collapsed as the names of the known victims were read out. Paramedics moved among the families offering comfort and support. One woman was carried away on a stretcher.

The Johannesburg mortuary said on Sunday that 10 victims had still to be identified, but four names were added to the list of victims during the service, leaving six still unidentified.

The mourners included Lewis, who is in South Africa for a world heavyweight title fight on Saturday against American challenger Hasim Rahman, his mother Violet and South African world junior flyweight champion Baby Jake Matlala.

"We share all their sorrow and we just wish them all the love in the world," Lewis told reporters.

Lewis and Matlala together laid a bouquet on the stadium stairs where some of the victims died.

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