A South African Perspective On May 9th Remembered
Mr. Herbert Mensah, founder of May 9th Remembered, turned the 15th anniversary of that tragic and tearful day into an international occasion by sponsoring two family members of the 2001 Ellis Park victims to share their sorrows with those of family members in Ghana.
Mmakgomo Tshetlo who lost her dad in the Ellis Park stadium disaster was one of the visitors, and she reflected as follows on her historic visit to Ghana.
“I find myself struggling to express my innermost thoughts and emotions about the wonderful and eye opening experience of my recent visit to Accra and Kumasi in Ghana.
The news and the trip itself couldn’t have come at a better time. I’d been yearning for a break and holiday for the longest of time. Time and time again, I’d put aside some money for a trip to the beach or resort but would end up having to pick from the savings to cover up expenses here and there.
So when the news came that I would be visiting Ghana I was taken aback. Too scared to be excited, too afraid of sharing the news, in case I jinxed the whole thing (the pessimist in me thought this is all too good to be true).
On the 4th of May, after a six hour flight, I was finally in Ghana. The heat and humid weather was the first thing that greeted us as we stepped of the plan. Definitely a warm welcome.
The following day we met Mr. Herbert Mensah, the wonderful man responsible for this trip. A big man, with an even bigger heart. The day’s activities included a press conference and meeting with family members of those that perished after a game of soccer In Accra, on the 9th of May, 15 years ago.
Meeting with the families was a humbling experience. Seeing how vastly different our lives are and how we’ve each been affected by the loss of a loved one was an eye opener. I realized that despite losing my father, I am fortunate enough to have a mother who took care of me in every way possible. A mother who was selfless in her attempts to ensure I had a good education, a roof over my head and everything else in between.
The families however do have Mr. Mensah who has proven to play an important role in their lives for the past 15 years. A provider and support structure for those families. I think though the most important role he has played so far in the lives of the families, is that of a father figure. Something I don’t have. Something I haven’t had for 15 years. Something I haven’t experienced at probably the most crucial part of my life, my teenage years.
After the meet and greet, we headed off to the stadium, where the fatal disaster occurred. Mr. Mensah recalled his encounter of that dreadful. Again proving just how much of a remarkable man he is. Carrying bodies, some lifeless, from the scenes where the chaos erupted to a place of safety.
We then made our way to the front of the stadium, where a statue has been erected. The mood was rather somber. I recall seeing an older woman cry because it had been the first time she had visited the site. I also heard that there were some names omitted from the stone where the names of the deceased had been written. A prayer was said as we all stood in silence to remember those that are no longer with us.
Shortly after our visit to the stadium we made our way back to the house and prepared for our trip to Kumasi.
Kumasi is something out of this world. To this day, I struggle to find one word to best describe the city. I try not to compare it with any other place I’ve been to because I’d be doing the city an injustice. I love how different it is to anything or any other place I’ve experienced. I love the explicit contrast of buildings, between the old and new.
Friday saw us visiting the mosque, a rather strange experience. We were asked to take off our shoes prior to entering the mosque. A council of leaders was seated in a circle. I shook hands with most of them, as some of the leaders, in the words of Baleka Mbete refused to recognize me, understandably so, considering the cultural and religious practices of Islam.
After departing from the mosque, we were driven to the king’s palace. Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II is the king of Ashanti Kingdom. Being at the palace felt like I’d just walked onto a Nollywood movie set, everything looked so majestic. Pity, we couldn’t take pictures with the king but meeting and getting to wish him a happy birthday was more than enough. By the way we share a star sign and our birthdays are a few days apart, so that makes him pretty cool. The day ended with us visiting the market. It felt like a place frequented by tourists, a bit too quiet for my liking but offers amazing craft sold by the locals.
We were up bright and early on Saturday morning to embark on a street walk in remembrance of May the 9th. Local rugby players, local soccer players, residents and of course family members of the loved ones in whose honour the event was held in. Although the walk was long, the energy of those who walked did not deter.
The May 9th Zongo Cup Memorial Tournament followed later in the day. The tournament was initiated and funded by Mr. Herbert Mensah, who is also the former Chairman of Asante Kotoko and current President of the Ghana Rugby Football Union (GRFU), as part of a series of Zongo Football Ghana tournaments played between Southern and Northern Sector teams. After a series of matches, Alhaji Israel United were crowned the winners of the tournament (and I yes, I was rooting for them to win).
What I loved about this entire experience and with the activities that took place was that at the end of the day, it was about remembering and celebrating the lives of our loved ones. Something I think we’ve never really gotten the chance to do in our own time.
My heartfelt gratitude goes out to Mr. Herbert Mensah, his team and every single person who shared in celebrating the memories of our loved and who, by welcoming us into their country and hearts, restored love and hope into my life.“