Safety concerns about De Aar ammunition depot


Concerns about possibly dangerous situations caused by unused and potentially unstable military ammunition stored at 97 Ammunition Depot in De Aar, Northern Cape, have been made public.

The sprawling depot covers an area of 29 rugby fields and has its own 49 km rail network to move ordnance. It also houses the SA Army’s School of Ammunition, according to information in the public domain, and is in the Pixley ka Seme District Municipality.

The potential for injury, if there were to be an untoward incident at the depot, was brought to the fore by Fawzi Rhoda, a Democratic Alliance (DA) member of the Northern Cape provincial legislature.

She has involved MP Kobus Marais, the party’s shadow defence and military veterans minister, in an effort to establish, among others, levels of compliance as regards storage and management of ammunition in use by the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).

At her request Marais will ask Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to investigate and establish levels of compliance with health and occupational safety regulations on large scale ammunition handling and storage.

“There are protocols and processes that must be observed at all times to be proper safeguards for people close to the depot,” she said, adding it was necessary to know – in the interests of public health and safety – there is full compliance.

“This is essential when it comes to management of older ammunition that is no longer stable. We need an investigation to satisfy us transport and storage of ammunition in this state is done in a stabilising way that protects the public.

“It is important for the national defence force to liaise with municipal officials on relevant municipal concerns, including water provision and sanitation,” she said, pointing out the ammunition depot was a national key point which made oversight limited.

This, according to her, does not preclude the SANDF from complying with set municipal standards. “Public health and safety can never be regarded as classified,” Rhoda said.

The depot consists of 186 magazines housing different types of ammunition and is secured by a high voltage fence, detection alarms, X-ray machine, metal detectors, a monitor room and surveillance cameras, according to information in the public domain. Estimates are there were 78 000 tons of obsolete and unserviceable ammunition at three ammunition depots with 23 000 tons at De Aar 14 years ago.  The other major SANDF ammunition depots are at Jan Kempdorp outside Kimberley in Northern Cape and Mookgophong, previously Naboomspruit, in Limpopo.

“The percentage of unserviceable or obsolete ammunition and serviceable or usable ammunition are respectively 67% and 33%. The guaranteed shelf life for shells and pyrotechnics are 10 years and for small arms ammunition 20 years. Ninety percent of SANDF ammunition was said at that time to be older than 20 years.”

The De Aar depot is 7 km from the town and 400 metres from a farm fence raising noise pollution, safety and health concerns a Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) report on a Defence Portfolio Committee visit to one of the two Northern Cape ammunition depots said.