Lockdown level 4 puts RDM explosion inquiry on hold


South Africa’s continuing battle against COVID-19 put a temporary hold on the inquiry into the September 2018 explosion at Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) in the Western Cape.

The second phase of the inquiry into the blast, which left eight people dead, was set to happen this week (5 to 9 July) but the re-emergence of level four lockdown for a two-week period means that will not happen. The Department of Labour inquiry will resume at an as yet unspecified date. Reports have it that when the first phase took place at the Macassar Civic Centre in May, some witnesses declined to appear because of COVID-19 fears.

To date, 13 witnesses  testified at the RDM inquiry, chaired by Mphumzi Dyulete, and 27 others are lined up to testify. The Department of Labour said once the inquiry establishes what transpired, officials would compile a report and recommendations to the department’s chief inspector, who will hand the report to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for consideration in the event of a negligence finding.

In late 2019, RDM said its investigations determined the explosion was caused by a particular type of electrostatic electricity. “Based on extensive testing, assessments and elimination of other initially suspected causes, the most likely cause was a build-up of electrostatic electricity in a suspended graphite cloud due to the triboelectric effect and a subsequent discharge which ignited airborne propellant in the blending drum,” RDM said in a statement.

Investigation leader Rod Keyser said: “The investigation team concluded the cause was a combination of human error when excess graphite was added to the material and a highly complex electrostatic electricity risk unlikely to have been foreseen, or expected to have been foreseen, by individuals involved. This particular type of electrostatic electricity risk is, as far as the investigation team has been able to determine, a previously unidentified and unforeseen hazard across the industry internationally.”

RDM said key learnings from the incident would be shared across the industry internationally.