“I have never heard anything so loud in my life – hours later it was still ringing in my ears. I was so frightened, I couldn’t sleep last night and my child is still too scared to go outside.”
eNkanini is still talking about the explosion that rocked the informal settlement on the north-east margin of Makhanda on Monday 8 March. It blew a bag of scrap metal to pieces, threw the bag’s owner five metres across the veld and left him with one broken leg and both legs full of shrapnel.
It was not a “bomb”, although it was so loud that neighbours believed it was.
“It was very frightening,” said one. “I just grabbed my baby and ran outside the house. That guy was lying on his back on the grass over there and he was bleeding.
“There was this big cloud of smoke in front of him.”
It was so loud that residents came running from the other side of eNkanini.
“We got there later and there was already police tape all around the place,” said a man who lives at the west end of the settlement, about one and a half kilometres from the shack where the explosion happened.
He described what he saw.
“The police had laid these things out in rows on the grass,” he said. “They were lots and lots of metal things that looked like prickly pears. More than 50.”
In their report, the police only describe the item as an explosive device and so it can’t be officially confirmed, but from that description, it seems likely it was one of several grenades.
The man lay on the ground, metres away from where he’d put the bag down, bleeding and in shock. Someone called an ambulance and he was taken to hospital.
When GMDirect visited the site of the blast on Tuesday, the man had been discharged from hospital and was recovering inside his tiny one-roomed shack in the settlement.
The police are obliged to charge a person found in possession of an explosive device, no matter what that person’s reason or intention. The 33-year-old man is thus formally a suspect and therefore can’t be identified until he’s appeared in court and pleaded. For the same reason, we also haven’t included his own account of events.
In SAPS’s statement on Tuesday, Provincial Police spokesperson Brigadier Thembinkosi Kinana said Joza Police had been called out to eNkanini informal settlement around 8.45am on Monday 8 March after an explosive device detonated there.
“On arrival at the scene they found a 33-year-old outside his residence at eNkanini with injuries to his left leg,” Kinana said.
The man had been collecting items at a field used by the Grahamstown Military base to sell as scrap metal.
“It is alleged that when he put the bag down at his residence it exploded and a shrapnel struck him in the left leg. He was taken to a local hospital for treatment,” Kinana said.
The Grahamstown police explosive unit was on the scene and the incident was also reported to the SANDF.
“The incident is currently being further investigated and a Serious Incident report according to Act 26 of 1966 Section 27 of the Explosives Act. A Possession of explosive devices incident was reported at Joza Police Station.
Photos of the eastern boundary of the army training grounds taken in 2014.
Access to the Army Base
GMDirect can confirm that most of the fences surrounding the Makhanda military base on the south and east boundaries have been destroyed or damaged since at least 2014. Fence poles have been lopped off near the ground and removed. For many years, metres and metres of barbed wire fencing has lain in the grass in the area, a hazard. Warning signs likewise lie scattered on the ground and obscured by vegetation. This reporter’s most recent direct observation confirming this situation was in late 2020.
In response to questions regarding the incident, and security at the base, the Army said the base was secured and that the area is cleared of sharp objects and explosives after training exercises.
Head of Communications at the South African National Defence Force Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi said, “We would like to… state that there are security measures in place to safeguard the military unit, its training area, and all facilities allocated for the use by the SANDF.
“The SANDF can confirm that the range and entire training area utilised by 6 South African Infantry Battalion and visiting units is cleared after every training exercise where ammunition, or any explosives, and sharp objects were used.”
Questions about the costs of the last fence and when it was erected were referred to the Department of Public Works. At the time of publishing no response had been received and we’ll add that information in the online version of this article when we do.
Hand it in!
During GMD’s research for this article, two things happened.
First, it turns out that lots of people know exactly who buys dodgy scrap metal, and didn’t hesitate to say where they would go to get cash for something the registered recycling outlets might refuse.
Second, a member of the public approached GMDirect and, showing this reporter a handful of bullets and bullet casings, asked what they should do with them to avoid getting into trouble with the law. We said we’d find out.
Below follows what we asked the police, along with responses from South African Police Service spokesperson Captain Khaya Tonjeni.
If a person had in their possession the items shown in the attached photograph, for purposes of selling them for scrap metal, would that be illegal?
There are types of firearms and ammunition that are not allowed to be owned by the public. When these firearms when discharged, usually all the empty cartridges should be picked up afterwards – for example, after training at a shooting range. This sweeping is necessary so that the empty cartridges are collected and correctly disposed of. Being in possession of ammunition, for example, one bullet or more, is a crime: Illegal possession of ammunition. On top of that, being in possession of a used cartridge can implicate you in something far more serious. If that bullet round had been shot during the commission of a crime, you would immediately become a suspect in that crime – even if you know nothing about it.
2. If a person knew they had illegal items (for example, discarded ammunition) and wanted to “do the right thing”, is there a way they could dispose of it without risk of arrest?
Once in a while, the police offer an amnesty window for the return of illegal weapons without the risk of prosecution. If one has a weapon and decides to hand it over to the police, no charge is effected; however, if the police search you and find you in possession of an unlicensed firearm, a charge of illegal possession of firearms should follow.
3. Does SAPS have a strategy for tackling the illegal “backyard” scrap metal market in Makhanda?
The police have a unit dedicated to enforcement of laws regarding secondhand goods and non-ferrous material. This team conducts regular operations and compliance inspections. Those found to be transgressing the rules are issued with a fine, or closed down until they fully comply.