Forever marked by Ellis Park tragedy
Ellen Arnolds can’t forget her husband’s death in stampede
● Ellen Arnolds is grateful that she and her four children are alive and “doing quite well” 20 years after her husband died in the Ellis Park disaster
Today marks 20 years since Calvin Arnolds and 42 others died in a stampede at the packed 60,000-capacity stadium in Johannesburg when 30,000 more fans tried to get in to watch a Premier Soccer League Soweto derby.
Calvin, 34 at the time, was among those crushed to death, but his three young sons survived.
Besides those killed, more than 150 people were injured.
“It’s been 20 years now and I thank the Lord because he carried us through this whole thing, and the children are now older and doing quite well,” Arnolds told the Sunday Times this week at her home in Ennerdale, south of Johannesburg.
Her sons, Keenan, 35, Jerome, 31, and Levert, 30, had since lost interest in soccer, she said. “I took them to the World Cup matches in 2010. They were OK with it, but they are not the same any more. Soccer was life in my home, but not any more.”
She is not convinced that enough has been done to remember those who died in the disaster. “I think SA has forgotten completely about those who died, so even if they have things on [the anniversary] they would just be hypocrites, because it is not about the loss any more and it is not about the families any more,” she said.
Arnolds’ husband and sons went to watch the Kaizer Chiefs v Orlando Pirates match on that fateful day, leaving her at home with her four-year-old daughter Taryn, now 25.
She had no idea what had happened at the stadium until her sister-in-law, Glenice Watson, raised the alarm. “Glenice came to my place to let me know that something had happened at the stadium. My father also pulled in to tell me the very same thing,” she said. “When we turned on the TV, bodies were already lying around on the field. That’s how we were notified.”
Arnolds used to go to the stadium every year on the anniversary of the disaster but eventually decided not to go.
“The boys were with their father and when you take them to the same place it is like opening that old wound again and I wanted them to heal,” she said. “We cannot change what happened and we cannot walk around with the bitterness and we cannot also walk around with the pain of the tragedy. We wanted to just be healed.”
She said the day should be remembered in a way that included affected families. “It would have been something nice if they found out how the families of the victims were doing.”
Chiefs boss Kaizer Motaung was emotional this week as he remembered watching from the presidential suite as the disaster unfolded. “There was so much disbelief at what was happening. We were all shocked,” he said. “My heart always goes to the deceased families and those who got injured on the
When we turned on the television, bodies were already lying around on the field. That’s how we were notified
Widow of Calvin Arnolds, who died in the disaster
day. We cannot forget, this will forever ring in our minds, especially when it comes to this month of April.”
Motaung recounted his first reaction when told what was happening on the northeast side of the stadium, where thousands of fans were trying to get in.
“While the game was still on we could see that there was some commotion in one corner. We were called upon and we realised there was a stampede, people pushing to come to the game,” he said.
Motaung is happy that both clubs acted on recommendations made by judge Bernard Ngoepe following his commission of inquiry into the disaster.
Concluding the commission’s 130-page final report, Ngoepe said: “The Ellis Park safety breakdown would probably not have occurred, or the consequences would have been less serious, had effective crowd management systems been applied.”
What happened at Ellis Park, said Motaung, was not only a lesson for Chiefs and Pirates. “It was a lesson for us as football people to actually address some of the issues that could cause this game to end the way that one ended.
“Up to this day I think all those recommendations were actually followed and a lot of changes were made. Even the timing of the derby was changed to ensure that people can come in without any difficulty.”