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Zimbabwean family buries four Boksburg gas victims

by Staff reporter
17 Jul 2023 at 06:55hrs | Views
A SOMBRE atmosphere engulfed Lushongwe Village in Gwanda as relatives and friends of four family members who were part of the 17 people who died from gas inhalation at an informal settlement in Boksburg outside Johannesburg, South Africa, gave them an emotional send-off.

Mrs Clester Ndlovu (26), her four-year-old son, Learnmore, her sister Mrs Siziwe Nyathi (21) and her daughter, Thembelihle (2), were among the 17 victims who died when a cylinder with unidentified toxic gas leaked.

The incident occurred on July 6 in Angelo's Squatter Camp. The victims were found within a 100m radius of the scene.

Preliminary investigations showed that the toxic gas was used by illegal miners to extract what they thought to be gold from the soil. The area has, for decades, been plagued by illegal mining, mostly for gold or coal.

Johannesburg, commonly known as the city of gold, is home to a labyrinth of abandoned mine shafts that stretch for hundreds of kilometres.

Illegal gold miners mostly from Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, have taken over the abandoned shafts.

In a heart-breaking scene, relatives of the deceased wept uncontrollably as the four coffins were being removed from the hearses. Many of them were struggling to come to terms with the harsh reality of losing their loved ones.

The four victims were buried at their rural homes in Lushongwe Village in Gwanda on Saturday afternoon.

Mrs Ndlovu left behind two children aged three months and eight years who survived the incident.

This was after their father Mr Patrick Ndlovu covered them with a blanket which probably reduced the amount of the toxic gas they inhaled.

Mr Ndlovu was hospitalised for five days.

Mrs Ndlovu and her son were buried at her father's homestead while Mrs Nyathi and her daughter were interred at her maternal grandmother's homestead.

The family members and relatives first laid to rest Mrs Ndlovu and her son before moving on to bury Mrs Nyathi and her daughter.

Narrating his ordeal, Mr Ndlovu said he arrived home shortly after 6pm and found his wife gasping as she lay helplessly on the floor while clutching onto their children.

"When I got home there was some noise as people wailed in the area, and there was a foul smell coming from one of the shacks. People seemed confused as they couldn't comprehend what was happening," he said.

"I found my wife and children lying on the floor, including our three-month-old baby and the other two children aged four and eight years. I took our three-month-old and placed her on the bed and covered her with a blanket."

Mr Ndlovu said he immediately directed his eight-year-old son to lie on the bed before he also covered him with a blanket.

"I lost consciousness and the next thing I remember is waking up on a hospital bed. I later learnt that my wife and our four-year-old son died at the scene," he said.

Mr Ndlovu's cousin, Ms Siphokuhle Ncube said when she arrived at the scene the following day, the poisonous gas was still in the air although it had subsided.

She said they had to wear masks in order to move around the area.

The grandfather to the two deceased women, Mr Zwelihle Nyathi said it was painful for them to lose family members in such as tragic incident.

"My two grandchildren were still young and now that they are gone, we have, as a family, been left with a huge responsibility of looking after their children. They have left a huge gap in our lives and as a family, we are devastated," he said.

Mr Nyathi said they were assisted by the Zimbabwean Embassy in South Africa to repatriate the bodies.

Mr Nyathi's nephew, Mr Ndabezinhle Ndlovu said they posted on different social media platforms seeking assistance from well wishers.

"We got assistance from Kings and Queens Funeral Parlour who offered their services at a discounted price. The Zimbabwe consulate in Johannesburg also engaged us and assisted in covering repatriation costs including facilitating the processing of relevant documents," he said.

Zanu-PF candidate for Gwanda North Constituency, Lungisani Ncube said the local community assisted the bereaved family in mobilising resources.

Ncube said the intervention by Government also brought the much-needed relief.

"We would like to thank Government under the leadership of President Mnangagwa for the great support during this painful period. Families usually struggle to repatriate bodies of their relatives from South Africa but in this case, everything was done timeously," he said.

The horrific incident occurred when gas leaked from a cylinder that was being drained by a group of illegal miners, who wanted to cut it open and use the gas to process gold. According to South African media reports and witnesses, the gas bottle which leaked was stolen from a local company in the area.

Seventeen people died while 11 others were hospitalised after inhaling the toxic gas.

Following the incident, Zimbabwe's consul-general, Mr Eria Phiri visited the scene and spoke to families of victims.

He also extended his condolences to the bereaved families.

The tragedy comes just six months after a gas tanker explosion on Christmas Eve which claimed 41 lives in the same town, among them Zimbabweans.

In May, a methane gas explosion in a disused South African mine killed at least 31 people believed to be from Lesotho.

Source - The Chronicle
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