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'Heroes' of Ellis Park deserve much better than this

The death of those 43 people - the biggest disaster to strike local soccer - has over the years been reduced to a soulless paragraph-long statement

14 April 2019 - 00:00 By BARENG BATHO-KORTJAAS

The front page of the Sowetan hammered the point home poignantly.
The face of the Thursday edition of our sister publication was adorned with a beautiful picture.
It was an image of Lindiwe, the daughter of Chris Hani, laying a wreath at the grave of the late SA Communist Party leader who was slain by that oxygen thief Janusz Walus in 1993.
Hani never lived to see the freedom he fought for all his life.
Below that picture of Lindiwe in a pensive mood was a puff crafted with the following words: "Khoza on why there's no Ellis Park disaster commemoration".
It was an unmistaken juxtaposition of two unrelated stories that had commemoration - or lack thereof - as a common theme.
Hani died 26 years ago on a day etched in SA's memory.
The country has kept his memory alive year in and year out.
The Ellis Park disaster, during which soccer supporters met their death in a stampede, happened 18 years ago.
The death of those 43 people - the biggest disaster to strike local soccer - has over the years been reduced to a soulless paragraph-long statement.
In the Sowetan story, Premier Soccer League (PSL) chairman Irvin Khoza, on Page 23, remarked on why there was no official plan to mark the 18th anniversary of the fateful events of that Wednesday, April 11 2001, when dozens of fans met their death during the Soweto derby.
"The Ellis Park disaster issue is an emotional one. And we did not abandon it, because we did make a statement that we have done our part ...
"We are asking that the families be given a chance to grieve. But the door was never closed. We have a challenge of the Klerksdorp disaster because we don't want to prioritise one over the other."
As much as the door was never closed, it was never opened for collective commemoration by all concerned.
The official word being brought forward is that nothing of significance is done because "we wanted to give families space to grieve".
The PSL cannot dictate how they should be remembered.
The 43 people who died at Ellis Park do not belong to the PSL nor to Chiefs and Pirates.
The 42 people who died in Orkney do not belong to the PSL and Chiefs and Pirates. They came from the community. They came from society.
It is perhaps incumbent upon us, the people among whom the dead belonged, with whom they shared their aspirations and dreams and hopes, to do something to make sure that the day they perished is marked with the dignity it deserves.
Because all lives matter.
Because black lives matter.
Because the two people who died at the pre-season Carling Black Label Cup on July 29 2017 were two people too many. Civil society should own the commemoration of our beloved supporters.
Every year, we watch on the television how the memory of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster is honoured.
No one is saying that the events of April 11 2001 should hang as an albatross around the neck of football officialdom.
Just last month we recalled the Sharpeville massacre, the brutal butchering of unarmed people who were murdered by apartheid police for daring to protest against the pass laws.
Every June 16 we collectively bow our heads in remembrance of the victims of the 1976 Soweto uprisings who dared to say voetsek to having Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.
To this day we pay homage to the battle of Isandlwana when the British invasion of Zululand was met by the bravery of spear-armed warriors who pushed back the frontiers of colonialism.
Hopefully, next year the Sowetan will splash with South Africans in a pensive mood honouring the memory of the fallen soccer supporters.

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