Painful Christmas for families of Boksburg explosion victims

24 December 2023 - 08:00
By Khanyisile Ngcobo
The site of a gas tanker explosion in Boksburg last year. A church memorial service and lunch has been planned to mark the one-year anniversary of the tragedy. File photo.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi The site of a gas tanker explosion in Boksburg last year. A church memorial service and lunch has been planned to mark the one-year anniversary of the tragedy. File photo.

It will be a painful and traumatic Christmas for the families of the victims of last year's tanker explosion in Boksburg as they commemorate the one-year anniversary of the tragedy.

The country watched in horror as dozens of people fell to the ground in agony when a liquefied petroleum gas tanker operated by Infinite Fleet Transport exploded after becoming stuck under a railway bridge on Christmas Eve.

The driver took a wrong turn while trying to get onto the N17 and miscalculated the slope of the road under the bridge. The trailer was damaged, which led to a gas leak. Rescue workers went to help, but a short while later the tanker exploded.

The explosion resulted in the deaths of 41 people, including 12 healthcare workers who were killed when the flames from the blast spread towards neighbouring areas and the nearby Tambo Memorial Hospital. Scores more were left injured or traumatised.

TimesLIVE spoke to some of the affected families ahead of the one-year anniversary, and they opened up about the continued trauma and struggle to move on after the tragedy.

Audrey Vushendibaba lost her husband Thomas, daughter Chiedza and son Nathaniel. 

Vushendibaba spoke about being the only one from a family of four to survive.

“It's never easy to lose one loved one. I lost three and I'm the only one left. It's never easy but my family and church members are very supportive. 

“Every time a song is sung, I think of them. My children were involved with praise and worship. If you want to survive, specially during this time, it's all about the conditioning of the mind.”

She said she was not aware of planned activities on the day but assumed each family would do its own commemoration. Her family will be unveiling tombstones for their loved ones.

Rose Mashaba, who lost her two children, Ndumiso and Neo, and daughter-in-law Vutiri Mlati, said she would be out of the country after an offer of help from a friend.

“We are not coping. That is why I want to be out of Boksburg,” she said.

“Kgosi [her youngest son] was admitted some weeks ago. He had a panic attack. He's not coping so we decided to let him go [to Cape Town] for a while.”

Glen Volmink, who survived the explosion, told TimesLIVE the Christmas season made him “very nervous” as he has had health challenges for two consecutive years.

In 2021 he spent a month in hospital during the festive period after his gallbladder ruptured, and in 2022 he was hospitalised and spent months healing from his extensive injuries. He was the only one in his family affected by the explosion.

“It was very bad from January to May. I had a lot of pain and suffering. But it's healed now,” the 67-year-old said.

Earlier this month, the Gauteng health department unveiled a wall of remembrance for the 12 workers based at Tambo Memorial hospital who lost their lives.

Another wall had been planned for the remaining victims but red tape delayed its construction.

Urban Ruins CEO Clayton Viljoen told TimesLIVE the idea has been shelved and a plaque would instead be erected before the end of January. 

Viljoen said the plaque would be placed on one of the hospital's walls. 

“We wanted to build a wall on the pavement adjacent to the explosion site but apparently that's against the law. So we're going to do a brick-framed plaque. We will engrave the date and explosion site and list all the families who were lost,” he said.

Viljoen said he hoped to have the plaque up before the end of January. He confirmed a church memorial service and lunch would be held for the families.