Jason Hartzenberg
Cape Town - “We are broken, there are no words,”

So said a shocked Beverley January, the mother in-law of Jason Hartzenberg, 21, one of the victims of the explosion on Monday at Rheinmetall Denel Munitions plant in Somerset West, 46kms outside Cape Town.

“No one is telling us how this happened, so we are just waiting to hear anything,” January said.

She said she received a phone call from Hartzenberg’s friend - whom he had just relieved of his shift - who had news about the explosion.

“We were in such shock because we couldn’t believe it,” she said.

Hartzenberg has a 1-year-old daughter and is the sole breadwinner of the family after his elder brother Mario was shot three times in gang violence in Macassar, leaving him unable to work.

He was among one of a team of 10 people mixing propellant for 155mm artillery shells on Monday at the factory. The shells were meant for the SANDF and export customers in Europe and the US. He had worked at the company for just three months.

Frustrated community members gathered outside the plant. Some used the opportunity to pray while staff laid a wreath outside the building. Others waited to hear news of their loved ones.

While information has not been forthcoming the Cape Argus understands that the bodies of the deceased were transported to the mortuary at the Tygerberg forensic pathology facility and some have not yet been identified because of facial injuries.

On Thursday, Deputy Minister of Labour Phathekile Holomisa visited the area to convey his condolences to the family. Spokesperson Candice van Reenen said that once the forensics and everyone else had completed their investigation the department would step in and do an investigation.

“We are hoping that this takes place tomorrow, we do have inspector on the ground.”

It remains unclear what exactly caused the explosion, despite reports of a leaking pipe on a storage tank.

Rheinmetall Denel Munition spokesperson Roman Koehne said: “In the late afternoon the fatalities have been recovered for identification. It is our utmost priority to confirm the names and number of the fatalities as soon as the identification has been completed. Expert officials continue to work relentlessly on site to determine the root cause of the incident.”

Rheinmetall Denel Munitions is a joint venture between Germany’s Rheinmetall Defence and South Africa’s state-owned arms manufacturer Denel. It supplies selected munitions and explosives to armed and police forces in South Africa and around the world.

It is not the first time an explosion such as this has occurred. Ten years ago, a similar explosion resulted in seven deaths.

Chairperson of the Denel board Monhla Hlahla said: “We were shocked to learn about this tragic accident where an explosion occurred during operations and destroyed the entire building as well as the immediate surrounding walls.

“It is heartbreaking that colleagues lost their lives in such tragic circumstances. Our prayers are with the families during this difficult time.”

[email protected]

Cape Argus