Management of the local ammunition manufacturer looked bereaved family members in the eye and confirmed the loss of loved ones killed in the fatal explosion.
The confirmation was provided by Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) CEO, Norbert Schulze at a meeting with the families on Tuesday afternoon (4 September).
In a sound clip recorded during the meeting, and played confidentially to DistrictMail, Schulze could be heard saying the bodies had been recovered but were unrecognisable.
He also informed family members that a forensic investigation had been launched and DNA testing would help identify casualties, determining which body belongs to which family. The testing was done the same afternoon and the results are expected to be available by next week, Schulze said.
Families visited the site after the meeting and said their final goodbyes by placing their hands on the forensic vehicles carrying the bodies.
“It was heart-wrenching,” a caring community member said. We visited the site, where we prayed and engaged in song as last respects were paid.”
As of Yesterday (Wednesday) flags at all Denel sites are flying at half mast in support of the victims and their families. The Macassar plant is a national key point.
The meeting followed a media briefing called by the manufacturer earlier the same day, where Schulze declined to confirm the number of casualties of Monday 3 September’s blast.
Social media was abuzz after shock waves were felt throughout the region, some claiming they felt and heard the blast as far as Pringle Bay and Grabouw.
At the briefing, Schulze confirmed the explosion in the propellant operations building at the site occurred around 15:30. It occurred during the propellant blending process – for artillery charges – and destroyed the entire building, also damaging the immediate surrounding blast walls. He emphasised there was and still is no risk to surrounding communities or the general public at any time.
“We have not established what the explosion means for the output of the plant, but there was no damage to surrounding buildings, due to design,” he said, adding the operations continue.
Schulze said the first and main priority is the affected families, adding that information will be shared with the families and then the general public.
State security minister Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba, who was at the briefing, said: “We are in a crisis since yesterday. We are here to get first-hand information on what happened to our people.”
She further expressed her condolences to the families and said they will support them throughout the time. “We are still waiting on the outcome of the investigations, although it will take time,” Lesatsi-Duba said.
According to Schulze, there have been three incidents in the last 10 years, which were reported to the police. One of these was a fire in which three people were injured and one life was claimed due to smoke inhalation. The second was at a chemical plant in Wellington, and only damage to the building was sustained. Another was a couple of months ago, but no injuries were reported.
Monhla Hlahla, Denel chairperson, said: “When Denel chose Rheinmetall to be their partner to produce these products, we chose the best in the world. It is our hope that the investigation will figure out how this happened. It is sad that we have lost lives. What is sure is that these are our people and they have families. They are part of us. They are somebody’s brother or father, so whoever they are we will do what it takes to make sure we look after them.”
ANC provincial secretary Faiez Jacobs expressed his party’s sincere condolences to the families who lost loved ones. “We don’t want to blame anyone, but as the community we want answers,” he said. “At this stage our priority is the safety of the community and to give counselling to the families of Macassar and surrounding areas. This is a tragedy – one loss of life is one too many.”
A media statement released by RDM on Tuesday stated that since the incident occurred, the investigation led by the police and the Department of Labour is underway. This is being done under safety and security risks, which persist.
“In the late afternoon the fatalities have been recovered for identification,” it states.
“It is our utmost priority to confirm the names and number of the fatalities as soon as the identification has been completed. Expert officials continue to work relentlessly on site to determine the root cause of the incident
“RDM, government organisations and religious councils are working hand-in-hand to support the families, employees and the community to get through this difficult and grief-stricken time.
“We would like to express our sincerest condolences and sympathy to the families, friends and community members of those affected by the incident. We mourn with heavy hearts and our thoughts are with them.”
With many unanswered questions around the safety and security at RDM and why the alarm was not signalled as is protocol, a local pastor and member of the Greater Macassar Civic Association, said the community requests that a commission of inquiry be launched to review the general safety plan of RDM.
RDM is a high-technology company and an integrated manufacturer and supplier of munitions and explosive related products for armed and police forces in South Africa and around the world.
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