Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) has confirmed that the fatal explosion which rocked its Somerset West plant, in the Western Cape, on Monday took place in the propellant operations building. “During operations an explosion occurred and destroyed the entire building and the immediate surrounding blast walls,” stated the company in a press release.
As of Tuesday morning, the company was still unable to confirm the number of lives lost. Media reports, citing fire and rescue sources, reported at least eight fatalities.
The company has assured Cape Town authorities that the plume of smoke which followed the explosion posed no threat to the public. “All necessary precautions are being taken,” it assured. The investigation into the event was restarted Tuesday morning.
In its media release, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) stated that another six workers were believed to be missing. “The factory produces explosives and propellants for civilian and military use in ammunition,” said Saftu. “Given the extremely dangerous products being manufactured at the factory, the federation demands an urgent and full investigation into the cause of the accident, to check whether all health and safety regulations were being observed in the factory and, if not, to find those responsible.”
The Liberated Metalworkers Union of South Africa also called for investigations “by all relevant authorities”. Both unions extended their condolences to families and friends of the dead workers. Both also called for the company to support the families of the dead and injured workers.
RDM’s head office is also in Somerset West. The company has additional facilities at Boksburg in Gauteng province, Potchefstroom in the North West province, and Wellington (which is also in the Western Cape province). RDM is 51%-held by Germany’s Rheinmetall Waffe Munition (part of the Rheinmetall group) and 49% by South Africa’s State-owned Denel defence industrial group.