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Helping Boksburg victims long after the explosion



One month after the gas tanker explosion on 24 December that rocked the lives of the Boksburg community, I went with our team working on the ground to assist the victims of the tragedy on a follow-up visit to the town.

While there, we met the Philander family. The mother and father had suffered extensive burns and were experiencing pain that kept them awake and screaming through the night. Of the 11 people in their vicinity who were taken to hospital following the explosion, they were the only ones who survived.

The Philanders had spent the past month attending funerals of friends and neighbours. Their children hovered around them, looking bewildered and frightened. I spoke to their five-year-old daughter, Kate, who told me that her mommy and daddy had been burned in the fire and it made her really sad.

The food supplies that we provided were welcomed, but it was the support of Clive Mashishi and his team that was really appreciated. Clive transported them to hospital for their visits, and Pastor Tshepo Mosala provided spiritual guidance and comfort.

We had arranged that they receive counselling that weekend with the phenomenal Arielle Susman, a social worker at King David Victory Park who has been a fixture in Boksburg, giving trauma therapy to those who need it most.

The Philanders are one of many families that the Jewish community has been supporting in the wake of the catastrophe. From the time that the explosion occurred until today, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies has been working closely with The Angel Network, Clive Mashishi, Fingertips of Africa, Arielle Susman, Pastor Mosala, and Prince Tamane (from Khula Khanya Holdings construction company).

We have done whatever we could to assist the people of Boksburg – physically, financially, psychologically, and spiritually. And we have continued to do this critical work long after the politicians and media disappeared.

Immediately following the explosion, Clive visited the site so that he could ascertain what was needed. Sadly, much of this involved helping with funeral arrangements. We were able to assist bereaved families to find the bodies of their loved ones and where required to do so, arrange for them to be released from mortuaries.

Clive and his team assisted with the arrangement of 12 funerals, providing tents, chairs, and whatever else was needed. Pastor Mosala conducted the funerals, bringing comfort to the bereaved, while Yehuda Lazarus and Jackie Morwalle from Fingertips of Africa cooked through the night to give hot meals to the mourners.

We assisted with serving the food and whatever was left over was packaged for the families to carry them through this difficult time. Clive also helped injured and burned people to get to hospital, and we were able to get supplies to those who really needed help. Prince Tamane and his team set about repairing the broken windows of nearby houses and an old-age home that was damaged.

One of the most heart-wrenching of funerals was the burial of the four Brits siblings, whose caskets stood side by side. Another was the burial of a grandmother and her 14-year-old grandson, Simakele Molo. Simakele saved his 10-year-old brother before succumbing to the flames himself. I met his little brother and was so pleased that we could be there to support them and all the other families at this horrific time.

The most resounding request we had, however, was for trauma counselling and we were extremely privileged to have Arielle on our team. Arielle became invaluable to the Boksburg community, spending weeks talking its members through this crisis. She has assured them that she will be available for them as long as she’s needed, and has also counselled our team members who were grieved and deeply shaken by what they saw.

It made me proud to reflect how in the wake of this horrific tragedy and its painful aftermath, South African Jewry have helped so much to bring healing and comfort to the people of Boksburg.

  • Wendy Kahn is national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.

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