A community meeting where Rheinmetall Denel Munition officials were expected to answer questions from Macassar residents about what happened at their depot on Monday fell flat when those expected to attend cancelled at the last minute due to “fears for their safety”.
Residents on Tuesday night expressed their anger after making their way to the Macassar New Civic Hall in cold weather, hoping for details on the blast that claimed eight lives.
Ward councillor Victor Isaacs told the assembled residents that the representatives had withdrawn from attending as “they say they are worried about their safety”.
Cape Town fire and rescue services reported that eight people had died in the explosion, but Rheinmetall Denel, as well as police, would not confirm the number of fatalities until the site inspection had been completed.
The identities of the deceased had not yet been officially confirmed, he explained, as the remains were unidentifiable.
Blast felt kilometres away
“The heat [in that building] was over 2000°C. It’s impossible that human flesh can survive it.”
DNA testing is required to identify the casualties, Isaacs said, and Rheinmetall Denel had committed to employing a private company to speed up the identification process.
The building had housed a blending operation for five different propellants used in artillery charges.
According to Isaacs, the explosion occurred while the workers were busy with the blending.
The blast was felt as far as Somerset West and Strand, and a number of Macassar residents said they had mistaken the incident for an earthquake.
A big black cloud was also reported to have been seen above the facility near Somerset West after the blast, with many locals complaining of chest problems, burning throats, sore eyes and coughing thereafter.
‘The inevitable happened’
On Monday night, disaster risk management spokesperson Charlotte Powell said the company had assured the City of Cape Town that the plume that followed the explosion held no threat to the general public.
Residents questioned why the facility was situated so close to a residential area. A single road separates Rheinmetall Denel from a settlement known as Deep Freeze.
Isaacs described Rheinmetall Denel as a “ticking time bomb”.
“Finally the inevitable happened – it exploded.”
Others alleged that a number of incidents had occurred at the facility over the years, and that they had been kept under wraps as the company hides behind its status as a national key point.
On Tuesday at a media briefing, Rheinmetall Denel Munition official Norbert Schulze said the company still had no idea what had caused the explosion.
The building had disintegrated and it had not been safe to enter to confirm how many people had died. — News24