The Western Cape’s Director of Public Prosecutions has decided not to prosecute over the fatal 3 September 2018 explosion at Rheinmetall Denel Munitions’ (RDM’s) Somerset West facility that claimed eight lives.
Nicolette Bell, Western Cape Director of Public Prosecutions, sent a letter dated 22 August to Advocate Winston Erasmus, the legal representative of the families of the eight people who were killed in the blast, giving notice of her decision.
“After a consideration of your representations, representations received from Messrs Webber Wentzel on behalf of the employer and the available evidence contained in the docket, I have decided not to institute any prosecution in the matter,” she stated in the letter.
National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson, Eric Ntabazalila, told the Cape Times that, “Given all the available evidence there was no reasonable prospect of a successful prosecution.”
RDM had been facing possible criminal prosecution after a Department of Employment and Labour (DEL) report detailed several occupational health and safety contraventions.
The DEL investigation was launched in May 2021 and was completed in August last year, but its report was not made public. Its outcomes were, however, shared with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the DEL’s chief inspector.
The DEL investigation into the explosion ran alongside an internal RDM one with 26 witnesses testifying at the government department’s investigation. They included technical experts, former employers, current staff and numerous investigators.
The Cape Times saw a copy of the report, but it’s not clear if this was the final version. Some of the findings the Cape Times reported include the “failure to conduct the risk assessment when installing a new iris valve which is deemed as the modification by the employer”.
“The incident was caused by an act of omission of criminal nature on the part of Rheinmetall Denel Munition (Pty) Ltd, as represented by Norbert Schultze the chief executive officer at the time of the incident,” inquiry chairperson Mphumzi Dyulete stated.
Earlier this year RDM said its priority has always been to help the families find answers and closure. “RDM has cooperated fully with all legal and statutory processes since the incident- and continues to do so.”
“It has been a long and painful process for the families of those lost in 2018, and as we have done throughout this process, we will continue to provide counselling and support services as required,” RDM stated.
Some family members of those who lost their lives in the explosion have expressed shock and dismay at the decision not to prosecute and have hinted at the possibility of instituting a financial claim against RDM.
In a joint statement, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and trade union Cosatu said they were “extremely disappointed by the decision of the DPP Western Cape Division to refuse to prosecute the RDM plant in Somerset West.”
“The reality is that the company is liable for criminal prosecution for the loss of life of ordinary workers. It is clear that the company places pursuit of profit above human life and justice. Police ineptitude and complicity with the company bosses robbed the families and the community of Macassar of justice. The decision by the DPP is a cover-up that represents a miscarriage of justice,” the statement read.