Boksburg explosion – Lessons forgotten, if it had ever been learnt

There was a terrible tragedy in Boksburg on Christmas Eve. A gas tanker got caught under a low bridge. Its load leaked and it exploded. Scores of people died, even more had to be hospitalised.

It was terribly sad. As is our wont as humans, the politicians turned out in force on the first day and on one of two photo opportunities thereafter, with a rash of promises of wrath and revenge – and platitudes. The opportunists then got stuck in with threats of lawsuits and more angry words.

It’s understandable, when you arrive on the scene after a tragedy. The broken window panes, the discarded toys and the air smelling dead – even days afterwards. But not every victim who perished, was just a bystander caught unaware or a rescue worker risking their lives to save others.

This week, there was a house fire in Randburg. The good news, perhaps, is that there was actually a fire engine to attend to the crisis. As the smoke billowed into the early evening sky, the fire fighters would have struggled to get to the scene for the sheer volume of well-heeled residents rushing to the scene.

They were not going there to rescue anyone trapped in the house. They were not going to help save valuables. They were not going to help douse the blaze. They were walking with purpose towards the fire with their cell phones out, ready for an instant selfie for posterity. The lesson of Boksburg, literally a month ago, forgotten – if it had ever been learnt

Every week, we gnash our teeth and rend our hair about the state of this country. The anguish is often coloured in legacy terms of class and colour. We forget the old truism that we get the government we deserve. And that is predicated on if we could be bothered to register in the first place and then show up on the day to make a choice, any choice

Britain is still wrestling with the consequences of Brexit and, depending on who you read, one of the most unimaginably venal and criminally incompetent governments of recent history – a little like us. That government is there because the people exercised their will. Sometimes we put too much blind faith in the will of the people as the inimitable British comedian Ricky Gervais explains in a 2017 skit that remains evergreen on social media. 

“The average person is an idiot, right. We still sell bottles of bleach with big labels on that say ‘do not drink’. Let’s take those labels off, right? For two years. And then have a referendum.”

Maybe if we did the same here, we wouldn’t have people running towards fires or rubbernecking at leaking gas trucks. We wouldn’t have to endure people asking why people got maimed or politicians pointing fingers for soundbites. 

Maybe, just maybe, we would have people starting to take accountability for their own actions. After all, if they refuse to be responsible for their choices, how can they hold anyone else to account?

A glass of bleach anyone?

Originally published by the Saturday Star on 28 January 2023.