Investigation into cause of RDM explosion underway


Following Monday’s explosion at Rheinmetall Denel Munition’s (RDM’s) Somerset West facility, it is, as far as possible, back to business as usual with the exception of the destroyed propellant operations building.

“At this stage management is totally focussed on assisting the families of those who died with grief counselling and whatever else is needed,” said RDM media liaison officer Roman Koehne. “The full extent of damage caused, cost of repair and how it will impact the business are issues management will look at in depth once the human aspect has been properly attended to.”

Eight RDM employees were killed in the explosion.

RDM chief executive Norbert Schulze said the company, non-governmental organisations, churches, religious and civic organisations were all working “hand-in-hand to support families, employees and the community in this difficult and grief stricken time”.

He cited priority number one as recovering and identifying the bodies of those killed.

The explosion happened during the propellant blending process, destroying the entire building where this is done and damaging surrounding blast walls but there was never any risk to people living in the area or the general public, he said.

The investigation into the explosion is led by the Department of Labour and the SA Police Service. “This is happening under persistent safety and security risks and experts are working hard to determine the cause,” Schulze said.

Denel SOC is a 49% strategic partner to Germany’s Rheinmetall. The two companies are run independently of each other with different boards and management structures. Rheinmetall Waffe Munition (RWM) in Germany (RWM) and Denel SOC Ltd concluded an equity partnership in 2007 wherein a majority interest in Denel’s Munition business was sold to RWM with a 51% (RWM) and 49% (Denel) equity shareholding. The company became known as Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM).

The Board of Directors and Management of Denel said the company is deeply saddened by the tragic events at the RDM factory on Monday.
“We were shocked to learn from the leadership of RDM about the tragic accident where an explosion occurred during operations and destroyed the entire building as well as the immediate surrounding walls.
“It is heart-breaking that colleagues lost their lives in such tragic circumstances. Our prayers are with the families during this difficult time,” said Chairperson of the Denel Board, Monhla Hlahla.
“Rheinmetall is our strategic partner, and although as Denel we hold the minority share, and we essentially run two independent companies with different operations, management and board structures, however, we have worked closely with them, so we are equally pained by this heart-breaking incident.
“Our deepest condolences go to the families of our departed colleagues. Flags are flying at half-mast at all Denel sites in support of Rheinmetall, the employees and the families of those who lost their lives,” Hlahla said.

RDM specializes in the design, development and manufacture of large- and medium-calibre ammunition and is a world leader in the field of artillery, mortar and infantry systems and plant engineering.

Its business focus is in Asia, the Middle East, South America, South Africa, other African countries and Europe via Rheinmetall AG.

Its product portfolio includes large-calibre ammunition (76mm to 155mm), artillery projectiles, propellant, charges, pyrotechnic carriers, mortar bombs, 40mm grenades and various missile sub-systems.

Three incidents have occurred over the past ten years at RDM where three people were injured and one died. In January this year 300 people were evacuated from RDM’s Wellington plant after a sulphuric acid leak.

Explosions at munitions plants are not uncommon due to the dangerous nature of the business – for example, last week three people were killed and several injured in a blast at a Russian munitions factory in Nizhny Novgorod.