Friday, 21 November 2014

Zimbabwe 'stampede'

Reports are coming in that 11 people have been killed and over 200 injured at a religious service in a stadium in central Zimbabwe which seems to have happened after the event finished and people began leaving. There are also reports from local news that around 30,000 were attending the event, and as it finished, police forced attendees to leave through just one exit. Shortly afterwards people began pulling down a pre-cast wall (pictured below), presumably in an attempt to avoid what could have been severe over-crowding through a single egress point. It was after this, that the police are reported to have fired tear gas (a claim they currently deny), which then caused the 'stampede'. 

Yet again, I feel have to take issue with the use of the term 'stampede' (which has appeared in every report I have seen of this incident). As I have argued after previous fatal crowd crushes at religious festivals in India in February and October 2013, describing such incidents as 'stampedes' implies irrationalist and even animalistic crowd responses that are rarely supported by closer examination of what crowd members actually do, and concluded that crowd crushing is often more likely to be responsible for any casualties (as opposed to people being trampled by the fleeing crowd). Furthermore, using such terms risks deflecting the apportioning of responsibility for this tragedy  from the victims onto what appears on the face of it to be some woefully poor crowd management.  We shall see what further information emerges about this tragedy, but I do wish the media would stop using the term 'stampede' to describe such incidents as it hinders attempts to explore such events in detail and look at how they can be prevented in future. 

Cocking C. (2013) Crowd flight during collective disorder- a momentary lapse of reason?Journal of Investigative Psychology & Offender Profiling. 10 (2) p.219-36. Available at:

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