Angela Sibanda, Chronicle Reporter
A 19-YEAR-OLD from Pumula South in Bulawayo suffocated while his cousin was hospitalised after they went into a fuel tank to clean it in Kelvin North industrial site on Saturday.
Onesisa Ncube died on the spot while Mr Alpha Mathe (21) was rushed to Mpilo Central Hospital where he was treated and discharged. Mr Mathe lost consciousness only to recover at the hospital.
Their uncle, Mr Feleki Mathema, a mechanic by profession, told Chronicle that he secured a part time job for the two to clean trucks.
Mr Mathema said as a family of Seventh Day Adventists, they were not working during the day on Saturday and the boys moved on site after 6PM.
He said he had told them not to go inside the fuel tank while cleaning the petrol tankers, but they both did not heed his advice.
Mr Mathema said he received a call at about 8PM to rush to the industrial site as there was an emergency.
“I sped to the scene and upon arriving I found fire brigade vehicles on site. Already my gut was telling me something was wrong. They told me that one of the boys had been rushed to Mpilo Central Hospital. I guess it was a way to get me settled before they then informed me that the other one who is 19 years of age had suffocated inside a fuel tank,” he said.
Mr Mathema said before they went to work, he had emphasised to them not to enter the tank.
He said the petrol tanker driver had initially called him asking if he was going to come and pick the boys up.
“I told him that the contract we had is that when the boys were on the job, the driver is the one who should bring them home. So, he said he asked the boys to come the following day to finish up the job. But they insisted that they wanted just 30 minutes to do the job. Within 45 minutes of receiving the call, my boy was gone,” he said.
Mr Mathema said when Mr Mathe regained consciousness at the hospital he kept asking for Onesisa.
He said yesterday morning they quizzed him on what had really transpired.
“He told us that he was the first one to enter the petrol tanker. But he felt he was suffocating and exited. But Onesisa then laughed at him as weak, and he entered the tank as well and within a few minutes he was suffocating,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the older one was still to recover from the petrol that he had inhaled, he called for help but the person who came refused to go inside the tank. He (Mr Mathe) entered the tank but he was already too weak to lift the boy out. He then requested to be pulled out of the tank. And that is how he survived. He was rushed to the hospital unconscious and had to be put on oxygen on his way.”
Mr Mathema, who seemed to blame himself for the tragic loss of his nephew, kept on reiterating that he had emphasised to them never to go into the tank.
He said he even asked them to do the work yesterday but they insisted on going on Saturday.
“For instance, the person who used to go with Onesisa to clean the trucks on the day, declined to go saying they should postpone it to the following day but he insisted on going on the same day,” he said.
Acting Bulawayo Chief Fire Officer Mr Linos Phiri said his team attended the scene after receiving calls at about 8:30PM.
He said when his team arrived Onesisa had already died.
“His body was retrived by one of the firefighters who entered the tank with a full breathing apparatus and removed the body assisted by other crew members. The body was then handed to the police. His friend who was assisting him had already been taken to the hospital,” said Mr Phiri.
He said cleaning of petrol tankers should be done by experienced individuals to avert similar disasters.