Denel explosion deaths are ‘heartbreaking’‚ says company chair

South African and German flag at half mast at the entrance of Rheinmetall Denel Munition plant in Macassar where several employees were killed after an explosion on site yesterday.
South African and German flag at half mast at the entrance of Rheinmetall Denel Munition plant in Macassar where several employees were killed after an explosion on site yesterday.
Image: ESA ALEXANDER/Sunday Times

“Flags are flying at half-mast at all Denel sites in support of Rheinmetall‚ the employees and the families of those who lost their lives‚” the company said on Tuesday.

Denel chairperson Monhla Hlahla said: “We were shocked to learn from the leadership of RDM about this tragic accident where an explosion occurred during operations and destroyed the entire building as well as the immediate surrounding walls. It is heartbreaking that colleagues lost their lives in such tragic circumstances. Our prayers are with the families during this difficult time.”

Earlier‚ Rheinmetall Denel CEO Norbert Schulze said on Tuesday: “We have no idea what went wrong.”

He said the blast produced “tremendous” heat. He was joined at a media briefing by the state security minister Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba in comforting families.

The City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services said on Monday that eight people died in the blast. But Schulze said they cannot confirm the deaths as no bodies have been recovered.

“We are not able to access the site yet; it’s not safe yet. There are falling rocks and stones and propellant‚ and extreme heat‚” Schulze said.

Hlahla said: “The affected area has been cordoned off‚ having been declared unsafe. The company has taken all the necessary precautions to enable an investigation into the accident to commence today [Tuesday].”

Schulze said the plant is one of the largest of its kind in the world and South Africa’s only large-calibre munitions production facility.

The complex contained 400 buildings‚ each with blast walls to prevent a chain reaction in the event of an explosion like Monday’s. RDM management said on Monday the explosion destroyed the entire building and surrounding blast walls.

Rheinmetall Waffe Munition (RWM) in Germany and Denel concluded an equity partnership in 2007 wherein a majority interest in Denel’s Munition business was sold to RWM with a 51% (RWM) and 49% (Denel) equity shareholding. The company became known as Rheinmetall Denel Munitions (RDM).

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