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Three children among 17 killed in Boksburg ‘gas leak’ tragedy

Three children among 17 killed in Boksburg ‘gas leak’  tragedy
Gas canisters confiscated from the scene of a suspected gas leak in the Angelo informal settlement in Boksburg on 6 July 2023. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

By Thursday morning, it was confirmed that 17 people had lost their lives in the Angelo informal settlement in Boksburg, Gauteng, following a suspected gas leak.

The incident on Wednesday evening also left 15 people in hospital, four of them critical and 11 in a serious condition, according to Ekurhuleni Disaster and Emergency Management Services spokesperson William Ntladi.  

A police statement said: “It is alleged that nitrate oxide leaked from the cylinder and poisoned the community of Angelo informal settlement in Boksburg. As per information on site, illegal mining activities were ongoing using nitrate oxide to extrapolate what is said to be gold from the soil within the informal settlement.”

However, Business Maverick journalist Ed Stoddard reports that two security sources with knowledge of illegal mining said they doubted that nitrate oxide would have been the source of the tragedy if it was linked to illegal mining.

“It might be mercury poisoning. If it is not used correctly it can produce a poisonous gas,” said one source, who suspected this was more likely, and noted that the informal settlement is next to a slimes dam or mine dump.

Another security source familiar with mercury and cyanide being used said he had not heard of nitrate oxide being used in South Africa.

Boksburg gas leak

People gather near the scene of a suspected gas leak thought to be linked to illegal mining, in the Angelo shack settlement near Boksburg on 6 July 2023. (Photo: Reuters / Siphiwe Sibeko)

Ntladi said the incident had been handed over to the SAPS and forensic investigators were conducting a preliminary investigation on the scene.  

The death toll was initially reported as 16, but Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi has since confirmed another death at Tambo Memorial Hospital.   

Read more in Daily Maverick: Trauma counselling for OR Tambo Hospital staff as Boksburg tanker blast death toll rises to 37

Ekurhuleni mayor Sivuyile Ngodwana, speaking to SAfm, said the city would treat the incident as a priority. He also called on residents to report illegal mining.   

“We are pleading with the communities to report these illegal operations that are happening in their communities because we have now witnessed the danger of this thing. They must report them to the police because we don’t want any other incident like this to happen.”

Onlookers gather at the scene following a suspected gas leak thought to be linked to illegal mining in the Angelo informal settlement on 6 July 2023. (Photo: Reuters / Siphiwe Sibeko)

Asked about the magnitude of illegal mining, Ngodwana said: “We knew there were (illegal activities) but we didn’t know they were operating like this. It is a serious challenge that we are fighting [and] that we must fight on.”  

‘Lazy response’

The EFF criticised the police for their allegedly delayed response after residents reportedly complained about a foul smell hours before the tragedy.  “The EFF slams the lazy response by the South African Police Service after being informed of the issue as soon as it occurred. State emergency services should, at all times, be the first to respond in such situations,” said EFF provincial chairperson Nkululeko Dunga. 

The Angelo informal settlement in Boksburg – the scene of the suspected gas leak that claimed 17 lives on 5 July 2023. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Dunga conveyed the party’s condolences to the deceased.“This catastrophic event should bring to question the role of the companies that have for years plundered both the mineral and human resources without any commitment to the economic reparation and environmental rehabilitation of the people and the land on this continent,” he added.  

The ANC caucus in Ekurhuleni said it had sent “sincere words of heartfelt condolences to the affected families, hoping that they find strength during this difficult moment”.

The incident comes seven months after 37 people died as a result of a gas tanker explosion in Boksburg on 24 December 2022. Twelve were healthcare workers from Tambo Memorial Hospital. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    as anyone with the slightest bit of a brain knows one does not carry gas cylinders lying down whether full or empty, the latter is never ever empty anyhow. one presumes that the bakkie drives on public roads and should one tank slip onto the road (they are not even strapped down) yet another disaster will occur!

  • Graham Nelson says:

    Hopefully the detectives investigating the incident aren’t the same ones sent to investigate the Andre de Ruiter poisoning.

    • Jennifer Hughes says:

      Actually laughed out loud.

    • Jennifer Hughes says:

      I am so sorry for those who have lost loved ones. I am also extremely frustrated that citizens are being asked to report illegal activity to a police force they, at best, don’t trust, and at worst, are terrified of.

  • Rory Short says:

    Such disasters expose a government system riddled with weaknesses.

  • Ian Gwilt says:

    Another tragedy that will soon be forgotten
    The root cause is criminality and inaction.
    These Zama Zama’s operate within the settlement, I am sure everyone there knew, but probably to scared to protest.
    Do you think the local cops did not know ?
    Also either scared or could not care.
    The Mayor asks for residents to report illegal activities, what a joke. He should read the Germiston news , residents of primrose highlighting no go areas because of Zama Zama turf wars.
    Deepest sympathy for the poor souls who died and their families.
    Any bets on anyone ever being prosecuted for this.

  • 1957.tonycole says:

    The gas in question was H2S. The recording of the witness said they smelt rotten eggs-H2S. The people were asphixiated -H2S. Beside being highly toxic, H2S is highly inflamable. I suggest one of the cylinders was filled with H2S

  • Iam Fedup says:

    Here’s another one that needs to be investigated – even though I personally reported it, as did a Neighbourhood dentist and a coffee shop. In Kensington, Johannesburg there has been a small of gas at one intersection for a few days now, and it is right next to a crèche. The security company claims that – just as with electricity and water – thieves arrive at night, open the gas taps and fill up cylinders. I understand that the gas used by the city authorities is different from the gas one buys in cylinders from legitimate sources, and is more toxic and more unstable. The municipality claims that it has now been privatized, and nobody wants to claim responsibility. Will children have to die before the morons in charge take action?

  • Andrew Denton says:

    Not sure what they were doing but Nitrous Oxide is used for processing gold scrap which has been melted, e.g electric cards and similar components. A leak of NOx in a closed environment would quickly displace oxygen in the atmosphere and suffocate anybody there. Not sure if such a closed environment existed, but it would be a credible failure mode if present

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