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Cause of fire at Rheinmetall Denel Munition in Somerset West yet to be determined, says CEO

Rheinmetall Denel 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)

Rheinmetall Denel 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 1, 2021

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Cape Town - Investigations into a fire that broke out at the Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) in Somerset West on Sunday night have begun amid calls from members of the community to either close down the factory, or have it moved elsewhere.

Sunday night’s incident came just over three years after a fatal 2018 explosion and just two days after a picket outside demanding the closure of the plant.

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In a statement on Monday morning, Rheinmetall Denel Munition chief executive Jan-Patrick Helmsen said the cause of the fire had yet to be determined.

“At approximately 11pm last night, a fire broke out 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 of Cape Town’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. However, police are currently on the scene and we are working closely with them.

“A thorough investigation will be conducted to determine the events leading up to the fire. We will share further information as it becomes available to us,” said Helmsen.

Asked whether sabotage was suspected, RDM spokesperson Ruby Maree said: “We don't know, as the investigation has just started. We will share findings as soon as possible.

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“SAPS will investigate and determine that. It's not for RDM to say,” said Maree.

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

“As for moving the site, RDM already has a site in Wellington. The material in Wellington is raw and comes to Macassar to be enabled. From here, whatever product is manufactured goes to whichever country bought it.

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“The fact that the factory is within the Macassar area affects the community. People are sick and tired of having blood on their hands because the ammunition made here is sold to countries that use it for their wars,” said Bazier.

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 residents 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,” said Helfrich

The recent inquiry into the 2018 incident, which killed eight people and injured others, was told of structural shortcomings, defective designs as well as unnecessary overtime being put in when there were no large orders.

The inquiry also heard that there was “negligence” at the time of the deadly explosion.

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