Residents blame illegal mining for Angelo nitrate gas tragedy

The residents of Angelo informal settlement in Boksburg on the east of Johannesburg are still in shock after their loved ones died after inhaling nitrate gas.

Seventeen people were killed on Wednesday evening after inhaling nitrate from a gas canister allegedly stolen by illegal miners operating in the area.

Judith Manyika, who lost both her son and daughter-in-law, told Sunday World on Thursday that she does not know what will become of her, saying the only person who supported her financially died in the tragic incident.

“They called last night when I was at home saying people are dying this side. I rushed [to the scene] and found bodies of people laying there. I found my son dead. I haven’t been able to sleep, the smell is too strong, so we have to wear our masks,” Manyika said.

The Mozambican said she does not know how she will repatriate the bodies back to Mozambique for burial.

“I am not working and I financially depended on my 19-year-old son. Now that he is no more, I kindly ask for assistance so that I can bury him in Mozambique.”

Nyameka Theshwa, who lost a husband who was also an illegal miner, said the incident has left her numb.

“The life we are living here is not good at all. We get raped and killed, and the living conditions are not good at all,” she said, pleading with government to help chase away the illegal miners from the area.

Speaker of Ekurhuleni metro Nthabiseng Tshivhenga said there is an operation in Angelo where illegal miners separate minerals from the sand.

“They use gas cylinders to separate it, so they pick up random gas cylinders, unfortunately, this one was still viable. None of them have demised and we cannot trace them,” Tshivhenga said.

Gauteng police commissioner Lieutenant-General Elias Mawela described the situation in the informal settlement as a mess. 

“The issue of illegal mining is an issue which cannot be solved by the police alone. Every sector has to play their part in order to fight this illegal mining,” Mawela said.

He added that the environmental state of Angelo is not good, making it hard for the police to gain entry into the area in case of an emergency.

“There are no roads here for ambulances or vehicles to pass through, if anyone is injured, they have to be taken to the sports ground where the ambulance will take over,” he said.

“Housing is also an issue. These house numbers are known by the residents only and this place cannot be accessible by GPS.”

One of the residents who did not want to be identified said they do not know the people who opened the gas cylinder. 

“Tracing these people will be a mission impossible, as most of them are not only foreign nationals, but they are undocumented as well. Seeing lifeless bodies laying around was horrific,” she said.

Among the deceased is a six-month-old and a two-year-old baby. Most of the victims who perished are believed to be foreign nationals from Mozambique.

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