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Families’ loss still lingers

The fatal explosion at the local ammunitions manufacturer tragically ripped away loved ones a year ago. For the affected families the grief and sorrow following their untimely loss remains a stark reality.

This was evident at an emotional public commemorative ceremony which was held in remembrance of the promising lives which were claimed in the devastating blast exactly one year ago.

Plant supervisor Nico Angelo Samuels (41), team leader Stevon Robert Isaacs (51), and operators Mxolisi Sigadla (40), Bradley Tandy (18), Jamie Lesley Haydricks (24), Jason Hartzenberg (22), Triston Lance Davids (21) and Thandolwethu Mankayi (27) were killed in the blast on Monday 3 September 2018. The incident occurred around 15:30, allegedly during the propellant blending process at the Somerset West plant of Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM). The blast also destroyed the entire building, damaging the immediate surrounding blast walls.

On the first anniversary of the incident, on Tuesday 3 September, the bereaved families gathered in an open field in Eland Street, Macassar opposite the depot for a memorial tree planting ceremony organised by the members of the Macassar Civic Association.

The gathering was preceded by the private unveiling of a newly-built memorial wall and garden of remembrance at RDM earlier the morning.

According to Auriel September, Macassar Civic Association secretary, the families of the Denel 8 were invited to plant a memorial palm tree and, in so doing, create a small garden dedicated to the memory of their loved ones. September said the initiative was made possible by the environmental group of the Anglican church, Green Anglicans, who donated the memorial trees to be planted on the council-owned parcel of land applied for via City Parks and Recreation.

A contract signed with the City department requires families and community members to water and prune the trees as and when needed; after a year it becomes council’s responsibility.

“We hope that the families will visit the garden which offers a serene space where they can feel close to those who passed on,” said September.

Pastor Mark Baadjies welcomed the guests and said the garden will serve as reminder that someone has paid a price.

“Nothing that can be said or done will make us forget about what happened on 3 September,” assured Baadjies, who provided comfort with Psalm 23.

Baadjies added that the impact of the tragic incident on the affected families and community, and the urgent need for the investigation’s findings will be shared by a representative who has flown to Germany to attend the RDM annual general meeting.

He further implored those affected by the tragedy to live through their longing for those lost in the blast.

The memories of Samuels, Isaacs, Tandy and Davids were honoured by family members who attended the event, while community members planted trees on behalf of Sigadla, Haydricks, Hartzenberg and Mankayi in the absence of their families.

As grounds were being prepared for the tree planting, David’s mother, Lizle, expressed having made peace with her son’s death and accepting the reality that he won’t be coming home. However, she constantly grapples with getting her life back on track. The mother of three has not returned to work since last October.

“Yes, my son was a friend and a colleague, but above all he was our Triston. We hope to find some peace in our hearts when the findings of the investigations are available. I didn’t see my child’s face following the incident and deserve to at least know what really happened, and that some responsibility will be taken,” she said.

She further expressed her disappointment that the victims’ names were omitted on the memorial wall which was unveiled at the plant. Lizle said that the suggestion to include their names on the stones will be put to RDM management.

Tandy’s mother, Susan, opened up about the unbearable grief she and her husband have endured since the blast, which took the promising life of their beloved teenage son who had just entered the workforce.

“The manner in which he was taken from life simply does not allow us any closure,” said the bereaved mother while comforting her emotional husband, Mario who shares her sentiment.

Maureen, the spouse of Isaacs, described experiencing one of those days that has plunged her into mourning.

“The pain remains unbearable,” she said. “What would have been comforting is if RDM, instead of talking the talk actually walked the road to healing with us.”

She explained the last contact she had with RDM up until recently was last December when the affected families were once again required to enter the premises where their loved ones, to attend a lunch.

Gerome Vermeulen, community member and chairperson of the Somerset West Site Environmental Advisory Liaison Group (Seal), which was formed following the sulphur explosion at AECI in 1995, recalled the fear he saw in the eyes of RDM management on that fatal day; not the fear for the lives that were lost, he claimed, but its result and the possible loss of their jobs.

“First impressions last,” he said. “The young men who died did not truly know what they let themselves in for. Any worker who enters the RDM site are surrendering their lives into God’s hands. The only safe place is where management is sitting. This is a reality people need to be informed of,” said Vermeulen.

Unified community support and a message of hope and love was offered to the families at a Remembrance Day service at the VGK church in Soekmekaar Street on Tuesday evening.

The church service, organised by Macassar Ministers Fraternal Youth, was led by Bishop Abraham Manuel with praise and worship directed by the Macassar City Church Worship Team.

Provincial minister of Safety and Security Albert Fritz was in attendance and delivered a strong message of encouragement.

Special items of song were performed by local artists David Jantjies and Manuel Jardine.

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