Johannesburg - Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi and political parties have expressed mixed feelings about the deaths of 17 people following a gas leak at an informal settlement in Boksburg on Wednesday.
Lesufi said his government learnt with great sadness of the incident.
Eleven other people were taken to hospital, one of whom was in critical condition. The youngest is 2 months old; she is responsive and breathing on her own.
It is alleged that the nitrate oxide leaked from a gas cylinder and poisoned the community of Angelo informal settlement in Boksburg.
Preliminary investigations have revealed that the nitrate oxide was being used by illegal miners in the area to extrapolate what is perceived as gold from the soil in the informal settlement.
“On behalf of the Gauteng provincial government, I wish to extend our heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of the deceased.
“We are confident that the investigations led by the police will assist us to get to the bottom of this senseless loss of lives, so we can go back to the affected families and explain what happened,” said Lesufi.
Lesufi added that the provincial government would give the necessary support to the affected families.
The gas leak comes seven months after the Boksburg gas tanker explosion that claimed the lives of 41 people in December 2022.
The DA in Gauteng said the deaths were due to the failure of the provincial government to address the sprawling zama zamas illegal activities throughout the province.
Ruhan Robinson, the DA’s spokesperson for Community Safety, and Nico de Jager, the spokesperson for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), said their party was shocked and saddened by the tragic deaths of the 17 residents due to the gas leak at Angelo informal settlement.
“We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and wish a speedy recovery to those in the hospital. It is alleged that nitrate oxide leaked from a gas cylinder used by illegal miners (zama zamas) to clean gold dust in the community,” the DA said.
The DA said that the Gauteng Department of Community Safety and the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) were to blame for this tragedy due to their failure to address illegal mining in the province.
“Gas usage by non-compliant individuals is a danger to communities through highly flammable leaks, ignition sources, and improper handling, which may lead to explosions.
“In environments where handlers comply with the law, regular maintenance is conducted, and there is proper ventilation and a gas detector, which are crucial to avoid casualties.
“However, the above is impossible with illegal miners who obstruct the law for their own financial benefit,” Robinson and De Jager said.
The DA said that for far too long, they had been demanding that the Gauteng government implement a strategy to deal with illegal miners, saying that had fallen on deaf ears, and there was not enough policing in mining communities due to ill-equipped police stations.
“We demand that the Gauteng MEC for Community Safety, Faith Mazibuko, and the Gauteng Premier, Panyaza Lesufi, act against illegal miners in the province.
“Illegal miners harm not only Gauteng residents but themselves, as this illicit activity kills hundreds of them,” Robinson and De Jager said.
The DA said they would further write to MEC Mazibuko to ascertain whether there was a strategy to deal with illegal miners and when it would be implemented.
Newly formed party Rise Mzansi has also conveyed its deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the 17 victims. National spokesperson Tebogo Moalusi said their thoughts were also with community members who were hospitalised as a result of the gas leak.
Various government representatives had visited the community to assess the situation, but as the work of providing answers to the families of the deceased and the Angelo community commences, Rise Mzansi appealed to government to ensure that counselling services are provided to family and community members, and provision be made to ensure that the deceased are afforded a dignified burial.
“For years, experts have raised the warning bells on the effects of illegal mining and the criminality surrounding it. Last night’s event and the death it has left in its trail must push government departments at all levels to deal with illegal mining. If nothing is done, the deaths of these innocent people will be in vain. Families have been broken and children have had their short lives snatched away by a situation that was not of their making.
“We deserve a proactive government that is at the forefront of solutions for housing, a lack of opportunities and safety for communities like Angelo.
“We mourn with the people of Angelo and South Africa. May the souls of the deceased rest in peace,” Moalusi said.