'When tickets ran out, people started fighting'

At least 50 dead after stampede causes crush in tunnel
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The Independent Online

One of the biggest matches of the South African football season ended in disaster last night when Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg turned into a horrifying rerun of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.

One of the biggest matches of the South African football season ended in disaster last night when Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg turned into a horrifying rerun of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.

Witnesses leaving the ground said the stampede, in which least 50 were crushed to death, happened because Ellis Park ­ a multi-purpose stadium most famous for its rugby ­ was too small to accommodate all those who wanted to see the crucial Johannesburg derby between the top teams Kaizer Chiefs and the Orlando Pirates.

The fatal crush is also a setback for South African aspirations to bid for the 2010 World Cup, after it narrowly lost to Germany for the 2006 event.

At least 27 bodies lay strewn on the field after the match had been cancelled. A stream of ambulances, private cars and helicopters delivered the injured fans to Johannesburg General Hospital.

The Sports Minister, Ngconde Balfour, said: "We're stunned, we're shocked and we're sending our condolences to those families." The final death toll is still uncertain.

Zeph Nyoka, 27, a supporter, said that those who were crushed in the eastern access tunnel after its gate was forced open appeared to be trying to enter the capacity stadium without tickets.

Mr Nyoka, who was sitting about 150 metres from the tunnel in which the crush happened, said: "We got to the ground early and everything seemed OK. The security was as normal. But it seems that when the tickets ran out, people started fighting to get in. And the security people could not cope with the pressure of the people.''

Noah Sibanda, 30, a paramedic who was off duty, said he had run on to the pitch to help the injured, some of whom had become entangled in barbed wire as they were pushed by the stampede.

A helicopter landed on the pitch and began ferrying the injured to hospitals. "The injured were hurt from the waist down. They had no feeling in their legs,'' Mr Sibanda said.

Supporters said it became clear that something was wrong midway through the first half of the match. The premiership game ­ between two of the country's teams with the biggest following ­ was abandoned when the score was 1-1, after 33 minutes of play.

Orlando Pirates lead the Castle premiership and Kaizer Chiefs, whose home ground is Ellis Park, are in 4th position.

Many expressed fury at the choice of venue for the match. Ellis Park can accommodate about 65,000 people whereas FNB stadium, which is Orlando Pirates' home ground near Soweto and hosts most football internationals, has room for more than 80,000 supporters. Until last year, the two teams shared FNB.

One man, who was clearly distressed, shouted: "There were as many people outside as inside. The organisation of football in this country is terrible ­ and they want to hold the World Cup." Michael Phiri, a 31-year-old Pirates fan, said: "The stadium was just too small, the tickets sold out, and the security people were overwhelmed by the crowd. I have never seen anything like this in South African football."

The stunned crowd slowly left the stadium at about 9.30pm after standing quietly in the terraces at the instruction of a commentator while the emergency services intervened. Many did not realise the seriousness of the disaster until the commentator, speaking in English and Zulu, read out a telephone number for Hillbrow mortuary in Johannesburg.

At Johannesburg General Hospital, a ward sister said she was turning away maternity cases to deal with the victims. Inside the hospital, Simayetwa Mabaso, from Jeppestown, bleeding from head and leg injuries, said: "Some of us are dead. I saw one of my friends, Hlahla. I don't know where he is now."

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