Hundreds of South African soccer fans disgruntled at the performance of their team rioted violently at a game on Saturday night, viciously assaulting at least one security guard on the field, attacking others with chairs, setting parts of the stadium on fire and causing extensive damage.
They were shocking scenes in a country that hosted the World Cup and prides itself on having the best-run soccer league in Africa.
Police said Sunday that two people had been arrested and more arrests were imminent following the mayhem at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in the east coast city of Durban. It followed a 2-0 defeat for Kaizer Chiefs, arguably South Africa’s biggest club, in the semifinals of the Nedbank Cup competition.
Kaizer Chiefs fans were mainly responsible for the riot as they set fires in the stands, ripped up parts of the stadium, invaded the field and attacked security guards and others, including television camera operators. They used plastic chairs and debris from the damaged stadium to attack and beat the hopelessly outnumbered security officials.
In the most disturbing scenes, a security guard was set upon by a mob of supporters on the field. He lay on the ground as they hit him with plastic chairs. A man then twice kicked him in the head. The guard tried to get away after the first kick, but after the second, he lay motionless and face down on the grass.
Police responded with stun grenades and tear gas to disperse the rioters and television pictures showed riot police storming the field and a white armored police vehicle racing across the edge of the pitch. The fans only stopped beating and kicking the security guard when a group of riot police with shields chased them off.
The assault on the security guard was filmed on a cellphone by one fan sitting in the stands and not involved in the violence.
As the supporters beat the guard, a woman can be heard shouting: ”They are going to kill. They are going to kill that security guard. Where are the police?”
South African Police Services spokeswoman Nqobile Gwala on Sunday confirmed the two arrests and said the suspects were facing charges of public violence and malicious damage to property. She said police were tracking down a number of other supporters involved in the violence.
Stadium authorities said 18 people were injured in the riot, five of whom were taken to hospital.
Already under pressure and unpopular with fans after a poor season, Kaizer Chiefs coach Steve Komphela resigned after the game saying he didn’t want to be the catalyst for violence.
”If I’m the trigger for this (the violence), then maybe one has to say, `maybe step aside’,” Komphela said.
There had already been signs of serious fan disgruntlement because of Chiefs’ struggles this season, with the club fined $20,000 for its fans throwing objects on the field at a game earlier this month.
Chiefs Football Manager Bobby Motaung confirmed on Sunday that Komphela had quit with immediate effect and said it was best for the team right now.
”We have to take responsibility and accept that we are faced with challenges,” Motaung said. ”We cannot allow the situation to continue. We are worried about the safety of the players, the coach and supporters.”
Although the fans had previously expressed their dissatisfaction with Komphela and the team, Saturday night’s pandemonium following the 2-0 loss to Free State Stars – which left the Chiefs with no chance of any silverware this season – was on a different scale.
Terrified players had to run for the safety of the dressing rooms as the enraged fans swept onto the field after the final whistle. Police parked an armored vehicle across the entrance to the players’ tunnel to prevent angry supporters getting to the players. All across the field there were then clashes between fans and security officials. Later, riot police, sheltering behind a white armored vehicle, shot volleys of tear gas into the stands.
The violence was condemned by South Africa’s minister of sport and others.
”Hooliganism and thuggery of this nature has no place in football and acts of violence … cannot be tolerated,” South Africa’s Premier Soccer League said. ”The League will work closely with law enforcement to ensure that those responsible for this hooliganism are subjected to judicial processes.”
The Moses Mabhida Stadium, one of the stadiums built for the World Cup in 2010, was still in disarray on Sunday morning when it was due to host South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa and a meeting of his ruling ANC political party.
South Africa successfully hosted the World Cup, the first in Africa. But the country has also had serious problems involving fans at soccer games, often involving Kaizer Chiefs, the hugely popular Soweto club that attracts millions of followers from all across the country.
Last year, two people died in a stampede outside a game between Kaizer Chiefs and fierce rival Orlando Pirates in Johannesburg. South Africa’s worst soccer disaster was in 2001 when 43 supporters died in a crush at a game, also between the Chiefs and Pirates in Johannesburg.
Gerald Imray is on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP