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South Africa Grapples with Year of Calamities: A Look at 2023's Devastating Disasters

Published December 31, 2023
7 months ago

In a year marred by tragedy and calamity, South Africa faced a series of catastrophic disasters that left an indelible mark on the nation. 2023 saw the country grapple with calamities ranging from catastrophic urban explosions and building fires, to illegal mining incidents and military exercises gone awry, culminating in a harrowing mining accident that shook the nation to its core.

The turmoil commenced in July, with one of Johannesburg’s bustling roads being torn apart by a violent explosion resulting from underground methane accumulation. The explosion claimed a life, injured 48 people, and damaged a fleet of 34 vehicles. Despite the devastation, municipal authorities wasted no time in laying out plans for the road's reconstruction, estimated at R178 million. As of September, the project had been segmented into three work packages, starting with fencing, rubble removal, and a stakeholder-inclusive design phase, all geared towards addressing transportation, services, and public environment improvements.

An unexpected and heartbreaking turn of events occurred at Angelo informal settlement in Boksburg with the death of 17 individuals, including children, due to chemical inhalation, ostensibly from a gas cylinder associated with illegal mining activities. The tragedy highlighted a crucial problem: the government's struggle in curbing illegal mining and the related safety hazards, spotlighted by Gauteng's top police official who attested to the difficulties in policing these lawless areas. In a decisive move, President Cyril Ramaphosa deployed the South African National Defence Force to support the police in battling these illicit ventures.

August brought another disaster, this time a blazing inferno in Marshalltown, Johannesburg, at the Usindiso building—a tragic episode that consumed 77 lives. The building, originally a refuge for the abused, had been commandeered by illegal landlords capitalizing on the vulnerable. The aftermath stirred action with the establishment of an inquiry into the catastrophe, though riddled with its own setbacks.

Adding to the list, six soldiers were claimed by a veld fire at a military camp during the Vuk'uhlome army exercise. A board of inquiry was set up by the military to delve into this tragedy, promising a forthcoming report.

The year culminated with a harrowing mining incident at Impala Platinum in Rustenburg, taking the lives of 12 miners when their conveyance plummeted unexpectedly. This last cataclysm of 2023 left an additional 86 injured, serving as a grim reminder of the perpetual perils faced by mine workers.

While the disasters that struck South Africa in 2023 were diverse, they collectively underscore the need for investment in urban infrastructure, stronger regulatory oversight in housing and mining, better emergency preparedness, and attention to public safety in all sectors.

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