Retired civil engineer and structural engineering specialist Stephan Lapage testified to this at the inquiry into the explosion, which killed eight people. Picture: Mwangi Githahu/Cape Argus
Retired civil engineer and structural engineering specialist Stephan Lapage testified to this at the inquiry into the explosion, which killed eight people. Picture: Mwangi Githahu/Cape Argus

Retired engineer tells inquiry how a defective wall design sealed the fate of Denel workers

By Mwangi Githahu Time of article published Oct 25, 2021

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Cape Town - The defective design of the concrete wall in the N16 building where the fatal 2018 explosion at Cape Town’s Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) occurred, ensured that the wall stood no chance when the blast happened.

Retired civil engineer and structural engineering specialist Stephan Lapage testified to this at the inquiry into the explosion, which killed eight people.

Lapage was commissioned by the Department of Labour’s chief inspector of explosives Rudzani Ramabulana, to write a report on the effects of the explosion at RDM’s propellant operations building, the N16 plant in Somerset West

The explosion occurred during operations and destroyed the entire building and the immediate surrounding blast walls.

The building where the explosion took place was used to blend large volumes of propellant from smaller sub-lots. At the time of the incident, sub-lots of single-base propellant were being blended into one homogenous final lot.

Lapage said lessons to be learnt from the disaster included the fact that the mere presence of a concrete wall was not necessarily good protection.

“In N16 the two walls gave a false sense of security. Those walls had been designed and reinforced, probably by someone who was not even a qualified engineer. The people who designed those walls were really amateurish.

“But that was often the case in those days as they built to the best of their knowledge at the time,” said Lapage.

Representing RDM, advocate Mike Hellens made the point that the buildings had been licensed by the Department of Labour inspectors acting as the regulatory authority.

The penultimate witness at the inquiry on Friday was a former CSIR physicist with 38 years expertise in the explosives industry, Frikkie Mostert.

Mostert worked together with Izak Snyman on the investigation into the explosion and carried out a simulation to see what might have happened.

Meanwhile, wrapping up the session, inquiry chairperson Mphumzi Dyulete said a third round of sittings would be announced at a later date.

He said it was vital for the inquiry to hear evidence from various witnesses before compiling a recommendations report that will be handed over by the department’s provincial chief inspector to the National Prosecuting Authority.

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