/ 4 September 2018

‘I’m waiting for him to come home’ — wife of Denel munitions casualty

Disaster risk management spokesperson Charlotte Powell said Rheinmetall Denel Munition RF
Disaster risk management spokesperson Charlotte Powell said Rheinmetall Denel Munition RF (Pty) Ltd would handle communication about the incident. (Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images)

For more than 20 years, Nico Samuels worked at the Rheinmetall Denel Munition Depot near Somerset West, walking to the facility early every morning from his home, less than 200 metres away.

[Nico Samuels]

He reported for duty for the last time on Monday.

Samuels, 41, was one of the casualties in an explosion which literally shook neighbouring Macassar and several surrounding neighbourhoods.

Among the people who felt the blast was Samuels’ wife Lawrencia, who went to her husband’s workplace to find out if everything was “alright”.

“I tried to find out what had happened, but nobody gave us any answers. A number of people were already there. Then they started calling names, asking relatives to go to the boardroom.

“That’s when I knew something was wrong.”

She left, not wanting to hear what she feared most.

A co-worker later told her that her husband had died.

On Monday night, dozens of relatives and sympathisers flocked to the Samuels home.

“I’m waiting for him to come home,” Lawrencia wailed while an uncle embraced her as she wept.

His mother, Angel, cried quietly. Nico had been her only child.

“He was a good man. At times, too good,” she said.

Lawrencia nodded in agreement, saying that he would give his last to anyone in need.

According to locals, loud bangs emanating from the facility were commonplace, but the “boom” which rocked Denel shortly before 16:00 was louder than normal.

“Things fell off tables and shelves in my house,” one resident said.

“I felt it into my feet. The ground shook. I thought it was an earthquake.”

On Monday night, tense family members and loved ones waited for confirmation of the casualties. Eight people are confirmed to have died.

Nico’s half-brother, Elmonique Small, said his family was “broken” by Nico’s death.

“He was a hard worker. He never even took off sick,” Small said.

Another bystander shook from relief after she heard from her boyfriend, whom she had feared was among the dead.

“He messaged me and said he was okay. Luckily, he worked in a different building on the site,” she said.

Residents say most of the Denel employees were locals. The facility was one of the biggest job providers in the area.

Angel had also worked for Denel for 21 years until she was retrenched in 2009.

Disaster risk management spokesperson Charlotte Powell said Rheinmetall Denel Munition RF (Pty) Ltd would handle communication about the incident because it was a national key point.

“After an initial inspection, [the company] has 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 tomorrow.”

In a short statement, the company said it was investigating the matter and would inform the public as more details became available.

“An explosion occurred and destroyed the entire building and the immediate surrounding blast walls,” the company said.

Further details on the incident are not available as affected areas remain cordoned off until it is safe to return, it said.

According to its statement, RDM is a high-technology company and an integrated manufacturer and supplier of selected munitions and explosive-related products for armed and police forces in South Africa and around the world.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo said details were “sketchy”.

An inquest docket into the explosion has been opened to determine the circumstances and cause, he confirmed.

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) said a further six workers were believed to be missing, and urged that “everything possible is done” to find them.

In a statement Saftu demanded that “an urgent and full investigation” be conducted to check whether all health and safety regulations were being observed in the factory.

“The safety inspectors must also look into what additional measures are required to tighten safety rules and ensure that such a tragedy is never repeated.”

Deputy President David Mabuza sent his condolences to the families of the eight fatalities.

He further urged authorities to “get to the bottom of the cause of the explosion so that necessary action can be taken”.

Denel is a state-owned aerospace and military technology enterprise.

DA shadow minister of public enterprises Natasha Mazzone said it was vital that the relevant authorities urgently conduct a full and thorough investigation into the cause of the explosion. — News24