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Boksburg gas leak — residents live in fear as illegal miners get back to work

Boksburg gas leak — residents live in fear as illegal miners get back to work
Residents of the Angelo Informal Settlement at the scene of a suspected gas leak on 6 July 2023 in Boksburg, South Africa. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

In the aftermath of the gas leak tragedy at the Angelo informal settlement in Boksburg, residents say they live in fear as illegal miners are resuming operations. While the authorities attempt to clamp down on illegal mining, some residents say there are no other work opportunities.

Residents of the Angelo informal settlement in Boksburg, the scene of a deadly gas leak last week, say they are living in fear as illegal miners are getting back to work. 

“Just last night, I was shouting at some of them because they were trying to get something over my fence. I was scared to go out,” said one resident, Amancio Mucumbe.

Mucumbe, who arrived from Mozambique nine months ago, lives with a relative and makes a living by selling vegetables in the street. 

Another resident, Lerato Mofolo, said, “The only time I will feel safe is when the open shafts they talk about are sealed. Because if the shafts are not sealed, they will continue their operations and endanger our lives.”

Seventeen people died on 5 July after inhaling toxic gas that is believed to have leaked from a cylinder used by zama zamas (illegal miners) to process gold-bearing material.

Gauteng Police Commissioner Elias Mawela visited the area last week and the police uncovered a number of makeshift mining operations in shacks where people live. Many of the shacks had been abandoned by their owners, who apparently feared arrest.

An aerial view of the Angelo Informal Settlement on 5 July 2023 in Boksburg, South Africa. It is reported that sixteen people died at the informal settlement because of suspected gas inhalation after a gas cylinder carrying nitrate oxide leaked. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Residents of the Angelo Informal Settlement at the scene of a suspected gas leak on 6 July 2023 in Boksburg, South Africa. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Resuming operations

“Sometimes it happens in the presence of the police. I can take you to the mine now and we will find them hard at work. Where are the police?” said Mandla Mngadi. 

“We are scared because we don’t know what other deadly material they bring here,” he added.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘I was walking on dead bodies’ — responders and residents tell of Boksburg gas leak horror

Theophelus Daluxolo Majozi (69) called on the government to build houses for residents of the informal settlement. 

“No normal person should live like this. We are threatened by criminals daily. We are on the verge of an even bigger tragedy if the government does not intervene. If these illegal miners can steal and bring such dangerous gases here, who knows what else they bring for their illegal operations,” Majozi said. 

Lehlohonolo Setati said, “You are saying this is illegal, but will you give the people jobs? When people are trying to make a living and you illegalise that, you must be able to provide them with an alternative.”

Setati said he wasn’t involved in illegal mining but that many of his fellow citizens from Lesotho were. 

“People are scared after what happened, understandably so, and they fear for their lives,” Setati said. 

“But no one wants to leave their home and go and confront an unfamiliar underground world. The needs outweigh the risks.”

Confronting illegal mining

No one has been held responsible for the 17 deaths and it has been said that five illegal miners who owned the leaking gas cylinder died in the disaster.

The Minerals Council South Africa has said that to effectively address the scourge of illegal mining, the government needs to:

  • Establish a specialised well-resourced and dedicated mining police task force focused on mining-related crime.
  • Make urgent changes to the law to define illegal mining as a recognised criminal activity with strict penalties.
  • Improve crime intelligence to ensure the leaders of the criminal syndicates behind illegal mining are arrested and prosecuted.
  • Engage with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy about how to deal with 6,100 derelict and ownerless mines as well as old mine dumps in innovative ways to curtail criminal activities at these sites.
  • Expedite the inclusion of artisanal and small-scale miners in the formal economy. This does not include legalising illegal miners who are engaged in criminal activities.  

The SAPS and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy are establishing a task team to deal with illegal mining-related crimes.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: Zama zamas just one part of a multibillion-rand organised crime economy that threatens SA

The prosecution of illegal miners remains low. One of the rare successes came in April 2023, when 87 illegal miners were sentenced by the Stilfontein Regional Court to a combined 696 years in prison. 

The group was arrested during a multidisciplinary operation led by the Hawks’ Serious Organised Crime Investigation unit, a special task force and the District Illicit Mining Task Team at Shaft 2 in Orkney on 20 October 2021. DM

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