​At least 17 people, including children, have died after a gas leak at a South African informal settlement near Johannesburg, emergency services said on July 6, 2023.

At least 17 people, including children, have died after a gas leak at a South African informal settlement near Johannesburg, emergency services said on July 6, 2023.

Photo by WIKUS DE WET/AFP via Getty Images.

Tragic Gas Leak Claims 17 Lives in South Africa's Informal Settlement

A gas leak connected to illegal gold mining in outside Johannesburg in South Africa has claimed at least 17 lives in an informal community constructed around the industry.

Seventeen people, including three children, have tragically lost their lives due to a suspected gas leak in South Africa, according to local officials. The incident occurred in the informal settlement of Angelo in Boksburg, located to the east of Johannesburg. Police and forensic investigators have cautioned the public to stay away from the area as the scene of the toxic gas leak remains active. The leak, which took place on Wednesday, has been linked to illegal gold mining activities in the region.

Johannesburg, often referred to as the city of gold, is dotted with a vast network of abandoned mine shafts stretching for hundreds of kilometres. These abandoned shafts have been taken over by illegal gold miners, predominantly from neighbouring countries such as Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. Angelo residents have disclosed that illegal mining gangs have been renting dwellings in the area for refining their illicitly acquired gold.

Illegal gold miners, commonly referred to as "zama zamas" locally, often employ gases to extract gold from soil taken from abandoned mine shafts. One of the gas cylinders was found leaking in the densely populated Angelo shanty town, where the victims were discovered within a 100-meter radius of the site.

Panyaza Lesufi, the Premier of the Gauteng Province, described the scene as heartbreaking, with bodies scattered throughout. Emergency service officials are concerned that additional fatalities may be found as search and rescue operations continue. Currently, twelve individuals are receiving medical treatment, with one in critical condition.

Heartbreaking personal stories have emerged from the incident, including that of a Mozambican woman residing in South Africa, who received a call from a neighbour informing her of her husband's collapse due to the gas leak. The woman, overcome with tears, expressed her worries about bringing her husband's body back to Mozambique, as she is unemployed and her husband worked part-time jobs as a handyman.

Estimates indicate that there are around 6,000 abandoned gold mines throughout the country, and environmentalists have highlighted the adverse impact of industrial mining on nearby communities, leaving a legacy of poverty and health problems.

Authorities are actively engaged in the investigation, as police have begun collecting evidence and removing remaining gas canisters from the scene.

Last year, a wave of violence targeted illegal miners in a region west of Johannesburg, resulting in several days of unrest. The incident unfolded after a group of 80 men, suspected to be illegal miners, faced charges of gang-raping eight women who were engaged in a TV shoot at an abandoned mine.