An underground explosion in the city of Johannesburg causes a massive sinkhole

Jozi – a collapsing city

By: Ntsiki Khunju

Image via Twitter (@KabeloGwamanda)

A regular afternoon in the center of Johannesburg turned catastrophic when a massive sinkhole developed due to an underground explosion. Social media was quickly marred by images and videos of visibly distraught citizens, capturing the traumatic event of the various rippled streets downtown, along with cars and taxis toppled over. Amidst the panic and anxiety, everyone wanted to know what was happening. As some of us sat comfortably and safely in our homes, far from the disturbance that had clouded the central business district, I was overwhelmed by the anxiety I felt at seeing evidence of the damage caused. Like the rest of South Africa, I also wanted to know what had caused this rupture. And most importantly, I wanted to know how this damage would be resolved. In a statement released by the Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA), the sinkhole was suspected to be caused by an explosion of underground gas pipes. However, quickly releasing its own statement in response to these suspicions as reported by The Citizen, Egoli Gas, an oil and natural gas company, stipulated clearly that it is unlikely that the explosion was caused by a gas pipeline or leak, stating that their network has not experienced any pressure loss, which is indicative of gas pipelines which are intact. ‘’Initial reports have shown the collapse in the road to be mainly in the center. Our gas pipelines are located in the road servitudes on the other sides of the road.’’ the statement read. 

A decaying city

The Johannesburg inner-city has been home to some of the most disturbing sights for a while. Run-down buildings are a norm, as is the sea of garbage that engulfs most parts of the city, potholes on every street, dirty water and sewer oozing from burst pipes running down the streets, and traffic lights that almost never work- it is a true definition of a mess. And through all this, it is business as usual for the municipality, with no clear indication of a sense of urgency to restore Johannesburg to the world-class African city it once was. My question then is, will the city’s municipality have the capacity to repair this damage after the conclusion of the investigation, considering how it is already struggling to maintain the city with the already existing structural impairment challenges mentioned above? How long will it take to fix the affected roads and will this challenge be an urgent matter to address for the municipality or will it, like the potholes, burst pipes, litter, non-working traffic lights, and run-down buildings, be overlooked and we all continue like nothing is amiss?

Where is our money going?

As a concerned citizen, I sought to understand what possible challenges could the municipality be faced, that I perhaps may not have oversight of as a resident, to know why Johannesburg continues to not be maintained in a standard that residents deserve. To get insight on this, first I had to know how much money is allocated to the CoJ municipality and what that budget has been used for. Seeking an audited financial resource that could help unpack the municipality budget and expenditure trends, I went onto Municipal Money, a web-based tool that has been designed to inform citizens on how their local municipality performs in terms of finances and enables them access to compare between municipalities. The latest available information as documented at the time of compiling this article is the audited financial report of the 2020/2021 financial year. According to the report, 78.1% (R53 301 354 558) of the municipality income was generated by residents paying for water and electricity, rates, licenses, and fines, and from interests and investments and 21.9% (R14 975 039 227) of the municipality’s income was generated from the equitable share of taxes, and grants from the national and provincial governments. Only 2.2 % of the budget was spent by the municipality on repairs and maintenance, which is tragic considering that a budget of 8% has been allocated for repairs and maintenance to ensure that infrastructure is adequately maintained to ensure that service delivery is not affected. While the report documents the municipality’s financial performance, it sadly does not substantiate negative expenditure. 

Now we wait

Unfortunately, at this point, the most urgent matter is investigating what caused the Johannesburg explosion and ensuring that the community is safe. Emergency personnel continue to work hard to enclose the affected areas and encourage citizens to remain clear of the area. We shall all wait to see whether the sinkhole will be repaired or how long it will take to do so.


About the author:

Nontsikelelo “Ntsiki” Khunju is a member of ACTIVATE! Change Drivers writers hub, she is a content creator, narrator, and spoken word artist.

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