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By Hein Kaiser

Journalist


Celebrating Boksburg blast’s heroes

Van der Merwe lauds the staff at Tambo Memorial who were some of the first on the scene, and luckily, had some ambulances on the property at the time of the event.


The Boksburg Blast on Christmas eve was one of the worst disasters in South African history.

It’s been nearly a month since the devastating gas tanker explosion changed many lives forever, including that of its heroes.

The true heroes of the events that unfolded are undoubtedly members of the local community of Plantation, the suburb of Boksburg where it all happened, and the security companies who were the first responders on the scene.

Minutes after the giant fireball devoured onlookers, AAA Security area manager Marius van der Merwe arrived at the scene.

He was alerted by his patrolman colleague, whose dashcam filmed the now famous, viral video of the explosion and car-reverse video.

Van der Merwe was asked to get to the scene immediately. “We need help, now!” read the WhatsApp message sent to him.

ALSO SEE: Boksburg tanker explosion: bereaved families fear they will never know the full truth

“When I got to the scene, we started assessing and see where we can help, because obviously, the injuries was of such a nature that whatever training I had, that’s not going to help them,” he said.

“So, then we started figuring out how we were able to help. And between myself and a colleague from another security company, we decided that I would go to the hospital, get burn shields and bandages so that medical personnel on scene could start treating the patients.”

He headed straight to the OR Tambo Memorial Hospital and raided its storerooms for burn shields and supplies.

Nobody was expecting a disaster of such mammoth proportions, so there were few available to place over victims.

“We took whatever we could. Space blankets to cover bodies, burn shields to help the injured. It was like being in a war zone,” he said.

“I will never forget the cries of pain and suffering, and seeing limbs torn off, people burnt beyond recognition and what looked like brothers trying to help one another. It was just terrible.”

The death toll was 40 people at the last count, with several more still fighting for their lives in hospital.

Van der Merwe said had a crowd not formed while the truck was burning, there may have been fewer casualties and fatalities as a result of the explosion.

It was an experience he said that he never wanted to repeat.

Van der Merwe was in the police service before entering the private sector, and he said he had never seen anything quite like the destruction before him.

He feels that throughout this tragedy, we lost some of our humanity too through the mass circulation of videos of the victims, that he saw firsthand, burnt and in pain, that really got to him.

“Find your humanity first. Before taking a picture, before taking a video clip. Go and find out if that person is okay. There’s a video clip where a guy walks in, he’s burnt, his clothing is burnt off his skin, his skin was peeling, and he was asking for help,” he said.

“And the guy doing the actual recording is saying, ‘go to hospital’ instead of helping him.”

It was then that Van der Merwe decided to start a rumour. He told everyone walking past that there were two gas lines under the road that could blow at any time.

It was an act of desperation to try and clear curious, snapping public out of the way so lives could be saved.

“It got people just to retreat a little. That’s when the cellphone filming stopped and all of that. And it gave us space to manage the scene until all the role players arrived.”

Van der Merwe lauds the staff at Tambo Memorial who were some of the first on the scene, and luckily, had some ambulances on the property at the time of the event.

He said seeing the community did not hesitate to help one another, which was admirable and despite the nightmare, spotlighted a measure of positivity on a dark day.

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