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Calls for Denel munitions factory to be moved or shut down after Sunday night’s fire

Denels Munition plant in Somerset West where another explosion took place on Sunday evening. There were no reports of injuries. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Denels Munition plant in Somerset West where another explosion took place on Sunday evening. There were no reports of injuries. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Nov 2, 2021


Cape Town - There have been calls from members of the community living around the Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) factory in Macassar, Somerset West, for the site to either be moved away or closed down following the fire that broke out on Sunday night.

Meanwhile, investigations have begun into the incident, during which no injuries have been reported.

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The fire came just over three years after the fatal 2018 explosion and just two days after a picket outside the factory demanded the closure of the factory.

Rheinmetall Denel Munition chief executive Jan-Patrick Helmsen said the cause of the fire had yet to be determined.

“A thorough investigation will be conducted to determine the events leading up to the fire which broke out at approximately 11pm on Sunday in a building at our Somerset West site.

“The fire was contained to the N86 magazine building and was extinguished by our internal fire department and the City’s Fire and Rescue Service, who reacted in line with all of our safety protocols.

“No injuries or casualties were reported and the cause of the fire has not yet been determined. We will share further information as it becomes available to us,” said Helmsen.

Asked about whether sabotage was suspected, RDM spokesperson Ruby Maree said: “We don't know, as the investigation has just started. SAPS will investigate and determine that. It's not for RDM to say.”

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Police spokesperson Vish Naidoo said: “As far as I know there has not been any case opened regarding this matter so it means I don't have a mandate to comment on this at this stage.”

Ward 109 councillor candidate Peter Helfrich (DA) said Macassar residents living a few kilometres away from the site called him on Sunday night after hearing the blast.

“Many feel it is no longer safe for Denel to be based in Macassar and have asked that we find a way to get RDM to move their plant out of the Macassar area.

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“Having a facility like this next to a residential area is extremely dangerous. It is not acceptable for residents to have to live in fear like this all the time.”

Outgoing PR councillor Rhoda-Ann Bazier (ANC) said the community wants the licence for the munitions factory to be reviewed.

Trade union Uasa said it was anxious about the safety of workers at the plant and said it was concerned that at least one Denel site in Gauteng may be operating without a properly qualified explosion manager in place.

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Spokesperson Abigail Moyo said: “The safety of workers cannot be jeopardised by plants that are operating without qualified managers to oversee processes.

“We are relieved that the incident last night did not claim lives or cause injuries among our members and other workers.”

The recent inquiry into the 2018 incident which killed eight people and injured others was told of structural shortcomings, defective designs at the plant.