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