Cape Town - Condolences have continued to pour throughout the night in for the victims who lost their lives in an explosion at Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) factory in Somerset West that left eight people dead.
RDM is a joint venture between Germany’s Rheinmetall Defence and South Africa’s state-owned arms manufacturer Denel. It supplies selected munitions and explosives products to armed and police forces in South Africa and around the world.
RDM chief executive Norbert Schulze, apparently at the factory at the time on Monday, did not take calls then, but did release a statement stating: "During operations, an explosion occurred and destroyed the entire building and the immediate surrounding blast wallls."
Last night Rheinmetall spokesperson Angela Farmer said: "The plant situated in Somerset West experienced an explosion at its propellant operations building. Rheinmetall Denel Munition has also assured the City of Cape Town that the plume that followed the explosion holds no threat to the general public.
"All necessary precautions are being taken and the investigation will carry on at first light on Tuesday."
Spokesperson for Disaster Risk management Charlotte Powell reiterated this, saying RDM has assured the City of Cape Town that the plume that followed the explosion holds no threat to the general public.
Scores of family members and eyewitnesses stood outside the factory hoping to hear news of their loved ones after they had heard a loud bang on Monday afternoon.
Workers were not allowed to use cellphones in the factory, making it impossible to find out if they were safe.
The Liberated Metalworkers Union of South Africa (LIMUSA) expressed shock, "We are left angered and shocked that an explosion which occurred at the arms factory on Monday, 03 September 2018, has left many workers injured, destroyed surrounding buildings and claimed the lives of workers.
"We extend our condolences to the families of the departed and wish all those who are injured a speedy recovery. We call on RDM to take full responsibility of the event and give full support to all those who are affected," spokesperson Dloze Matooane said.
Matooane said the union is also calling for investigations by all relevant authorities which should also assess the safety of workers at the company
Philip Versfeld, a Somerset Neighbourhood Watch member, said: “The bang was so loud that the windows rattled. We are used to the sound of them testing ammunition, but we never heard it that loud before.
“The community got into a frenzy and a few members and myself went to investigate,” he said.
It is not the first time an explosion like this has occurred. Ten years ago a similar explosion resulted in seven deaths.
It's still unclear as to what exactly caused the explosion this is despite reports of a pipe of a storage tank that started leaking.
South African Communist Party has also conveyed its condolences, "The SACP in the Western Cape called for an expedited, full investigation of the circumstances surrounding the explosion, as well as of compliance with the prescripts of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Further, the Party calls on Denel to provide counselling to all the workers at the plant and the families of the deceased workers," SACP Western Cape Provincial Secretary, Benson Ngqentsu said.
Denel spokesperson Vuyelwa Qinga expressed shock.
“Should the deaths that the media has reported on be confirmed, Denel SOC Ltd sends our deepest condolences to the families of anyone who has lost life in this incident. Denel SOC is a 49% strategic partner to Rheinmetall, a company of German origin,” she said.
The area’s ward councillor, Rhoda-Ann Bazier, said most of the victims were young.
“This has been a tragedy. The HR official told us that they have to identify the bodies. That can take very long. We don’t have much info at this stage, Bazier said.
“We are offering support to the families who we know from the area.”
The Congress of South African Trade Unions ( Cosatu) spokesperson, Sizwe Pamla said that the organisation also shared their condolences to the families of the deceased workers and wished all the injured workers a speedy recovery.
"The federation is demanding a thorough and comprehensive investigation to establish the cause of this terrible accident. The number of workers who are dying at work due to fatal accidents in this country is totally unacceptable. What is disconcerting is that while workers are continuing to die every day; there is not a single person who has been prosecuted or held accountable."
ANC Provincial Secretary Faiez Jacobs said: “The ANC Western Cape sends its support to the families of the confirmed eight people who have died and those injured. We continue to monitor the situation through our councillor on the ground and we hope there will be no more deaths.”