Brawl between rival soccer teams leaves 40 dead

By MALCOLM FRIED  |  Jan. 13, 1991
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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Battles between soccer fans and an ensuing stampede by hundreds of panicked onlookers killed 40 people and wounded more than 50 Sunday at a game between arch-rival soccer teams, police said.

The death toll in western Transvaal province represented one of the worst incidents in South African sporting history, police records showed.

Fans were watching a match between the Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates at a Ernest Oppenheimer Stadium in the town of Orkney when fighting broke out Sunday afternoon among hundreds of the estimated 20, 000 spectators.

'A section of the crowd was unhappy with a decision by the referee to give the Chiefs a goal,' police spokesman Col. Johan Mostert said.

'Bottle-throwing began and then thousands of people stampeded for the gates ... many were crushed in the squeeze to get there,' Mostert said, noting two of the dead were children.

'The death toll may rise some more ... some people are very badly hurt,' he said.

Mostert could not say how many died in the fighting before the stampede, saying, 'Many of the bodies have extensive injuries ... we cannot say now who died where.'

Officers were at the scene trying to establish who had provoked the battles, Mostert said.

Spectator Frans Phokwana said irate Pirates fans began pelting Chiefs supporters with beer cans shortly after a Chiefs team member scored a goal.

'I nearly died myself,' Phokwana said, describing the crush of the stampede which followed the fighting. 'People were lying all over the place, some were unconscious, some were bleeding.'

An ambulance official described the scene as 'a bloody mess.'

The management committee of the National Soccer League scheduled an emergency meeting for Monday morning to discuss the incident.

'This is a sad day for South African soccer,' NSL Chief Executive Officer Cyril Kobus said. 'We want to get to the bottom of things as a matter of urgency.'

African National Congress Deputy President Nelson Mandela said in a statement he 'mourned' the casualties.

'Every loss of life is deeply mourned, for each one of you is precious and needed to build the free South Africa in the making,' he said. 'This tragedy should bring us closer together in our shared grief.'

Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, which include many South African soccer stars, have large followings in black townships around Johannesburg and fans follow teams during matches across the country.

Spectators clash periodically, but deaths at games are rare.

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