Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
THE 15th anniversary of the worst disaster to hit Zimbabwe sport, when the National Sports Stadium turned into a death cage in which 13 fans perished, came and went yesterday, ignored by a football community that has turned its back on the game’s darkest hour.
It was business as usual in Zimbabwe football yesterday as the game’s leaders chose not to remember the 13 supporters who went to the giant stadium on July 9, 2000, to support their beloved national team, but didn’t go back home to tell their story.
In sharp contrast, the Zambians have been holding memorial services every year on April 28, to remember the players and technical staff who perished in that air disaster off the coast of Gabon when a chartered military plane came down shortly after take-off in 1993.
This year on the 22nd anniversary of the tragedy, the families of those who perished in that tragedy gathered at the burial site, known as Heroes Acre, in Lusaka to remember those who fell in that plane crash.
FAZ president Kalusha Bwalya a former teammate of the players who died in that tragedy, called on the country’s media to highlight the achievements made by those who lost their lives during the days when they represented their country with distinction.
“I think the Gabon disaster is not for FAZ alone, but for all Zambians,” said Bwalya.
“It is up to the media to write and honour the people and show the world that in Zambia we believe in our history.
“I think it is up to you guys (journalists) to showcase what 1988, 1990, 1992 and 1993 itself meant for Zambian football.”
Across the Limpopo, the South Africans have refused to let time wash away memories of that night 14 years ago when 43 fans died at Ellis Park during a football match featuring bitter rivals Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.
This year, the Premier Soccer League of South Africa, as they have done every year on April 11 since that tragedy, paid tribute to fans who lost their lives in that disaster.
“On this day in 2001, 43 football fans lost their lives while attending a football match during what is now referred to as the ‘Ellis Park Disaster’,” the PSL said in a media statement.
“The Premier Soccer League remembers those football supporters who tragically lost their lives. Every year we remind ourselves and the lessons the tragedy offered. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the families of those football supporters who lost their lives.”
A number of prominent figures in South African football also cared to remember the tragedy and spare a thought for those who lost their lives in that stampede.
Journalist Robert Marawa took to Twitter and wrote: “To the families of those who lost their lives at the Ellis Park Disaster. We will NEVA 4get. Retweet in solidarity,” while former Bafana Bafana star Marks Maponyane, who has become a broadcaster, wrote: “14 yrs ago today I went to Ellis Park to watch Pirates play Chiefs with thousands of fans. 43 people didn’t make it back home. #EllisPark43.”
Kaizer Chiefs, who lost fans in that tragedy, also took to Twitter with a post: “Today we commemorate the 14th anniversary of the Ellis Park Stadium tragedy, we will never forget #EllisParkDisaster.”
Nine years ago, on the sixth anniversary of the National Sports Stadium disaster, scores of people gathered at the giant stadium where they paid tribute to those who lost their lives, with 13 candles being lit, each one representing the life that was lost.
Those who were at the giant stadium included the then ZIFA chairman, Wellington Nyatanga, former Premier Soccer League chief executive Chris Sambo, the then Warriors coach, Charles Mhlauri and the national team’s fans Chris “Romario” Musekiwa and Patrick Mutesva, who would later become the team manager of the Warriors.
They remembered the victims who included Alec Dean Fidesi, a six-year-old Dynamos fan, who became the face of the disaster, as he was the youngest among those who lost their lives on that afternoon during a World Cup qualifier between Zimbabwe and South Africa.
The other victims included Eularia Made, T Makonese, Tawanda Gwanzura, Patrick Mpariwa, Killian Madondo, George Chin’anga, Sam Mavhuro, Enock Chimombe, Joyce Chimbamba, Benhilda Magadu, Ronald Kufakunesu and Tonderai Jeke.
After the disaster, an inquiry was held and a fund set up to help the families of the victims.
THE FAZ WEBSITE ON THE 15TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE GABON DISASTER
“SOCCER’S DARKEST DAY: The loss of a generation of talent. When reports filtered through local and international news-wires that a Buffalo military plane had plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off the ill-famed coast of Libreville, it not only changed the course of Zambian football history. A great football generation was lost, dreams shattered, and a nation wept.
“The global football family could only moan in distress and horror as shocking and horrifying images flashed across the television screens and newspaper pages relieving the horror of the scenes on the shores of the Gabon coastline as 18 players, two Football Association of Zambia officials, a journalist and the Zambia Air Force crew perished following the DHC-5 Buffalo, AF-319 — plunged into the cold Atlantic.
“What today is the most horrible tragedy to befall Zambian football still lingers on the face of Zambian football and the campaign for a FIFA World Cup finals appearance continues.
“What has come to be known as the Gabon Disaster happened on April 28, 1993 shortly after the Military plane the Zambia national soccer team was using to fly to a 1994 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Senegal came down. Shortly after a refuelling stop in Libreville on their way to Senegal for a 1994 World Cup qualifier, the Buffalo went down killing all on board. Zambia’s darkest hour!”
FIFTEEN YEARS AFTER HILLSBOROUGH, ENGLAND REFUSED TO FORGET
“Today is the 15th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster at Sheffield in which 96 people were crushed to death during the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest,” noted The Guardian Newspaper.
“That day, the way English football was watched, presented and financed changed forever.
“The 96 people who died that day died because of gross incompetence by the South Yorkshire Police. In particular, Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, who failed, perhaps through lack of experience (many blamed his inexperience of handling such big games), to realise what was going on. And who, by his own admission, “froze” when faced with a decision that took the lives of so many.”
AND TWENTY SIX YEARS AFTER HILLSBOROUGH, ENGLAND HASN’T FORGOTTEN
“New inquests are being held to investigate how 96 football fans died as a result of the Hillsborough stadium disaster on 15 April 1989. The victims were all Liverpool supporters watching their team play Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground,” noted the BBC.
“The inquests are taking place in front of Lord Justice Goldring, a Court of Appeal judge who is acting as coroner for the hearings. The Ministry of Justice has built the biggest courtroom in England and Wales, in an office building near Warrington, to host them.
“Lord Justice Goldring ordered the hearings had to be held in the north west of England because most of the victims’ families live in the region.
“Unusually for inquests, a jury will hear the evidence and will be asked to decide on the verdict.”