RDM blast investigations still ongoing


It’s been over six months since an explosion ripped through the Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) facility in the Western Cape, killing eight people, and to date the cause has still not been established.

In the aftermath of the explosion three forensic investigations were launched – one by RDM itself, with external support – and the others by the SA Police Service and the Department of Labour. RDM chief executive Norbert Schulze said this week: “We are still awaiting the outcome of the investigations, and RDM’s own investigation to identify the root cause is also still ongoing”.

He made an undertaking to “share information and be transparent about the findings as soon as final results are available” but did not give any indication of when this could be.

The explosion, thought to have possibly been caused by gun cotton, ripped through parts of the company’s Somerset West facility on 4 September. Nine working days later an in-depth forensic investigation confirmed the identities of the employees killed in the blast. They were Nico Samuels, Steven Isaacs, Mxolisi Sigadla, Bradley Tandy, Jamie Haydricks, Jason Hartzenberg, Triston Davids and Thandolwethu Mankayi.

Schulze said no rebuilding can start on the site until all investigations are completed. This injunction also applies to the removal of blast debris.

The building where the explosion happened is one of about 400 on the RDM Somerset West site. Each is designed in such a way that if there is an incident, such as an explosion or fire, it will not affect surroundings structures. Blast walls around the building where the explosion was, ensured the pressure wave was directed upwards with no effect on other structures.

This, according to Schulze, is part of RDM planning that sees “explosive circles” defined and calculated allowing for buildings to be spaced so, if an incident does occur, it cannot affect other buildings or people.

The size of the circle is determined by operations in the building. RDM adheres to national and international standards which make provision for the circle to include a maximum possible affected area. All circles are on the RDM premises, so any possible effect is limited to the perimeter of the site. Surrounding communities cannot be affected by any such incidents.

As far as the cost of rebuilding and re-equipping was concerned Schulze said he did not expect any significant impact, adding operations are continuing at the Somerset West site and other RDM production facilities.

“We do not expect significant negative effects on future product portfolio offerings and delivery times. Customers whose orders were affected by the incident were individually informed.”