Just before 4pm on Monday September 3, a loud explosion emanating from the Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) RF (Pty) Ltd near Macassar, rocked the Helderberg Basin.
It was heard as far afield as Stellenbosch, and the concussion from the explosion shook houses close by and triggered a number of alarms.
Cape Town Fire and Rescue (CTFR) despatched resources to the scene, and spokesperson Theo Layne later confirmed that eight people had died in the explosion.
The resultant fire was rapidly contained, and RDM later confirmed in an undated and unsigned press release on an official RDM letterhead, in Bolander’s possession, that the plume which resulted from the explosion posed no threat to human health.
According to the press release, “during operations (in the propellant operations building) an explosion occurred and destroyed the entire building and the immediate surrounding las walls”.
The facility was placed under lock-down, and aside from emergency services nobody was allowed access to the plant.
Concerned residents from Macassar who have family members who work at the plant gathered at the gate, waiting to hear if their loved-ones were safe.
Mobile telephones are prohibited in the facility, because of the risk of explosion – the plant is an “integrated manufacturer and supplier of selected munitions and explosive related products”, according to the press release.
State Security Minister Dipuo Letstatsi-duba visited the scene of the incident on Tuesday morning, and in a press briefing noted that the scene of the explosion is now a “forensic site” undergoing investigation by a number of agencies to establish the cause of the blast.
It also merged that, despite earlier reports, the number of fatalities is unknown at this time.
According to a RDM spokesman at the press briefing, the company’s safety procedures and systems are fully compliant with required standards.
He explained that the accident took place in a facility which manufactures propellant for artillery systems. In response to a question during the press briefing, the RDM spokesman said that the company had experienced three previous accidents between its Somerset West and Wellington facilities, resulting in a single fatality.
Ms Letstatsi-duba expressed her deepest sympathy for the families of those killed and injured in the blast, and gave the assurance that “they would be looked after”.
In a radio interview on Tuesday afternoon, Ms Letstatsi-duba confirmed that RDM had arranged for the families of the known deceased to receive counselling.
According to the Denel corporate brochure, RDM is an equity partnership with Rheinmetall AG, headquartered in Düsseldorf, Germany, with Denel owning 49% and Rheinmetall AG owning 51% of the equity in Rheinmetall Denel Munition RF (Pty) Ltd.
RDM’s operations encompass “medium and large calibre munitions, rocket and missile subsystems, grenades and forging business” according to the brochure.