RDM explosion generates employee safety questions


Two explosions in three years at a Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) plant in the Western Cape is, according to a political party and a trade union, two too many.

Pieter Groenewald’s Freedom Front Plus (FF+) and Gauteng headquartered United Association of SA (UASA) questioned operational safety at what the union called a “State-owned weapons manufacturer”.

While “grateful” no-one died in the Sunday night explosion at the Somerset West munitions manufacturing facility, Groenewald feels production should be halted, especially when taking into account an official Department of Employment and Labour (DEL) inquiry is ongoing.

“The investigation into the September 2018 fatal explosion has not been concluded. It is unacceptable production was resumed before all questions around that incident were answered. Continuing with production put lives at risk and Sunday’s explosion is further proof,” Groenewald, previously a Commando officer who often served at Naschem, an earlier South African incarnation of its defence industry capabilities, on the far West Rand.

His knowledge leads him to unequivocally state “stringent safety measures must be in place when handling and working with explosives”.

Groenewald says it’s time RDM and its South African minority partner, State-owned Denel, open up about plant safety.

“Safety problems at the plant are no longer a ticking time bomb – two explosions are proof of that.”

He wants answers – speedily – and not a repeat of 2018 where a government-led inquiry is still hearing testimony ahead of compiling a report for forwarding to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

RDM did its own internal investigation soon after the 2018 explosion in accordance with statutory obligations. It found the most likely cause to have been a combination of extra graphite added to propellant in one sub-lot of materials and a highly complex and unlikely electrostatic electricity risk.

UASA’s Abigail Moyo wants RDM to conduct a thorough investigation into events leading up to the explosion and expects an update as “a matter of urgency”.

“UASA needs to be able to ensure its members they work in a safe environment, their right as employees,” she said in a statement.