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Sunday, 15 April, 2001, 05:18 GMT 06:18 UK
Fighting for life at Ellis Park
Ellis Stadium victims
Forty-three people were killed in the crush
By Milton Nkosi, Africa bureau editor

When I was born in 1966 my local team Orlando Pirates had one more supporter added to its fan club.

Unfortunately because of the ever demanding nature of my job in BBC newsgathering, I rarely have the opportunity to attend as many football matches as I would like to, whether they are home or away games.

But on Wednesday I was determined to go to the match, against our great rivals Kaizer Chiefs.

I left the BBC bureau slightly early to make sure I could get a seat at South Africa's famous world-class stadium Ellis Park.

Medics at Ellis Stadium
Medics administered treatment on the pitch
When I got to the stadium an hour before kick-off, the ticket queues were snaking ahead well into the distance and I was so impatient I could not bear standing in the long line to buy my ticket.

Fortunately I recognised a friend who was close to the sales window and he kindly agreed to buy me a ticket at the same time as he bought his.

My heart was beating fast with excitement. Fans from both teams were filing past me with all sorts of celebratory regalia, singing, chanting and blowing real animal horns.

There was nothing odd about the size of the crowd, this was the biggest football derby in the country.

Johannesburg on Wednesday evening had a gentle autumn breeze softly blowing on crowds as they made their way into the stadium.

I managed successfully to get inside and got one of the last seats available.

Gates at Ellis Stadium
The metal gates were twisted by the crush
Ellis Park was packed to capacity 45 minutes before kick off, local music groups provided entertainment on the pitch, there was dancing and singing all around me.

As people were taking up space on the aisle between the stands, it became more and more difficult to move. Gradually, the pushing and shoving was becoming unbearable.

At first I thought it was going stop when the match began, but how wrong I was.

Fans who were sitting on the steps down the aisle were getting more and more squashed by the incoming crowd - it was absolutely clear that there was no more room in that area.

The first thing I did was stand up and see how many people were still trying to get in.

There were thousands still coming in. I and most people who were seated near to me had to stand on our seats to avoid the crush. Those who were not quick enough were getting crushed.

Man comforting boy at Ellis Stadium
Shocked fans wept after their ordeal
Our screams were as loud as humanly possible but the PA system and the rest of the stadium crowd just drowned out our voices.

When the whistle was blown and the match began, this just fuelled the stampede. The crowd outside the stadium surged forward even more, only this time with greater force.

Suddenly a few security guards and marshals were battling against a human tide.

As if this was not enough, Kaizer Chiefs scored the first goal and all hell broke loose.

Those who were still outside pushed down the stadium steel gates and rushed in to join the people who were already being squashed and crushed - they wanted to see which team had scored the first goal of the match.

It was horrible. Together with those next to me I screamed and whistled, trying to draw the attention of the match officials to stop the game.

But the noise of the rest of the crowd in the stadium who were following every pass, every tackle and every move of the ball, was just too much for them to hear our cries. They probably thought we were rooting for our teams.

A friend tried to use a belt to deter the crowd from surging forward but he failed, dismally. I shouted to him: "Banzi, if we don't get away from here we are going to be crushed to death!"

Terrifying journey

I then started the terrifying journey that led to my survival - walking, pushing, shoving, screaming with both my feet off the ground.

I had to walk on other people to save my own life. Others were pushing me away as I forced my way out of the chaos.

As I left the Ellis Park stadium. I saw shoes, bags, people's belongings spread across the outer perimeters of the stadium.

It looked like the aftermath of a riot. Some of the steel bars used for channelling queues were torn free of their cement bases.

Hard lesson

I felt relieved as I walked to my car that I could still walk and breath.

By that time Orlando Pirates had equalised, but the match was only stopped when the officials realised what had been happening in the grandstands.

The stampede was eventually stopped too, but a heavy price was paid by those who died in it.

Like the Hillsborough tragedy in England 12 years ago, almost to the day, South Africa has learnt about the need for crowd control the hard way.

I had gone to the stadium to watch and enjoy my team beat our arch rivals, but my dream was snatched away by a tragedy that was both an accident and partly caused by human error.

As we go through this black Easter weekend, we keep our hopes high that a tragedy like this will never happen here again.

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