According to an engineering academic, the explanation provided by the city official on the possible cause of the explosion that occurred in Johannesburg’s inner city, resulting in damaged vehicles, one fatality, and 48 injuries, lacks coherence and fails to provide a logical explanation.

By Ntandokazi Nxumalo

The explanation provided by Johannesburg city officials regarding the cause of the explosion that rocked Lilian Ngoyi Street on Wednesday afternoon has perplexed experts.

Today, 72 hours after the explosion that resulted in the death of one person and the injury of forty-eight others, the city has yet to provide a conclusive statement regarding the cause.

Municipal manager Floyd Brink stated that their initial investigations have eliminated illegal mining as a potential cause. Brink also cleared any suspicion of human interference with the underground pipe infrastructure.

He outlined three potential scenarios: “…ignition of methane gas in underground systems due to stormwater ingress…the ignition of natural gas, mixed with air which is oxygen in the underground storm drainage system…the ignition of gas from a gas pipe burst.”

This is even though Egoli Gas, the city gas utility, has ruled out a gas explosion: “Our network has experienced no pressure loss, which indicates the gas pipelines are intact. Our customers in the area continue to receive gas uninterruptable,” the company said in a statement just hours after the explosion.

Speaking to The Telegram, Dr Phathutshedzo Khanagale, a senior lecturer in chemical engineering at the University of Johannesburg, expressed his disagreement with the three potential causes suggested by the city, stating that they were illogical. According to him, all of these causes imply the presence of an ignition source, which would indicate that the explosion was followed by a fire.

According to Khanagale, a pipeline impact would have provided a more plausible explanation for the explosion. He points out that, “if the pipeline was a gas line, it must have been a non-flammable gas.”

Khanagale finds the explanation provided by the city to be puzzling.

“If the explosion was really due to a gas leak, there would have been a client that must have notified a service provider, but the city has not been able to say which client is not receiving its services.”

A gas explosion has been the primary suspect since the incident occurred. Following the explosion, Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi alluded to the likelihood of a gas explosion during his address to the media. He informed journalists that there was a distinct and pervasive odour of gas in the vicinity.

During another media briefing held the day following the tragic incident, Lesufi disclosed that the panel of specialists he had assembled to conduct an investigation into the eruption comprised various service providers, namely Egoli Gas, Johannesburg Water, Rand Water, City Power, Eskom, Sasol, and Telkom, all of whom had infrastructure networks running beneath Lilian Ngoyi Street.

Lesufi compared the explosion at Lilian Ngoyi to the blast that occurred at the Telkom Tower in Yeoville, Johannesburg in 2010. It is believed that the explosion was caused by defective neon lighting in the tower’s large soccer ball. Two people died as a result of that incident.

In the meantime, Mzi Khumalo, the MEC of the Gauteng Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), has expressed scepticism regarding his government’s capacity to effectively address and manage disaster situations.

In an interview with Xoli Mgambi of News Room Africa, Khumalo said the provincial disaster capacity was wanting.

“We had a cabinet meeting on that day (Wednesday), and the premier raised an issue with ourselves, that are we ready, can we confidently say we are ready to deal with a disaster of any kind in the province, I must be honest and say that the answer we provided was that we are not that much ready,” he said.

Khumalo explained that the provincial government needed to introduce initiatives that can educate the general public on how to effectively react to a disaster.

“On the day in question instead of people evacuating in a particular way, people were instead curious going around the danger area taking pictures,” he said.

Khumalo’s statement aligns with the accounts of the people affected by a gas incident in Boksburg, Ekurhuleni, where 41 people lost their lives due to an explosion caused by a fuel tanker transporting liquefied petroleum gas.

One of the witnesses to the tragedy, Melissa Dube, responded to the incident by running away from the area. She explained that she was standing at the corner of Lilian Ngoyi and Rissik Street when the explosion happened, and the incident greatly affected her emotionally.

“I ran away from where the explosion was because I feared for my life, confused about what was happening,” she said.

Mohammad Rony, the owner of a butcher shop located on Lilian Ngoyi Street, expressed concerns about the well-being of his family as he anticipates a loss of R15 000 per month due to the street’s closure for investigations.

“I have a family to feed and now I have no idea how we will survive,” said Rony.

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