Denel’s plant near Macassar stays put, despite residents’ concerns

Local community representatives have not held discussions on the fate of the Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) Somerset West depot near Macassar in the Western Cape after an explosion. This is according to the state-owned entity’s chief executive, Jan-Patrick Helmsen, who has dismissed suggestions that the plant could relocate. 

On Monday, opposition parties, civil society organisations and workers’ unions slammed the operations at RDM, after Sunday evening’s explosion at the state-owned entity’s depot lit up the night sky.

“The situation at this site is becoming untenable. Residents feel it is no longer safe for Denel to be based in Macassar,” said the area’s ward councillor, Peter Helfrich.

Pieter Groenewald, the leader of the Freedom Front Plus, said it was “unacceptable” that production at the plant had resumed while an investigation into a 2018 explosion that killed eight people was still underway. 

Asked whether RDM had considered relocating its plant, Helmsen replied: “Thus far, the local community representatives have not had any discussions with us about shutting down the site.”

Helmsen went on to highlight the crucial role played by RDM, which provides about 1 100 job opportunities at the Somerset West depot and  employs more than 2 500 people nationally. 

“RDM is a key employer across South Africa and we are committed to being a good corporate citizen that complies with all legislative requirements and has a positive impact on surrounding communities,” Helmsen said. He noted that the company also participates in programmes to empower communities, including a schools investment programme, a training academy and a major creche development.

RDM is the primary munitions supplier for the South African National Defence Force and South African Police Service. It also “plays a major role in the water purification for the City of Cape Town,” Helmsen said.

Meanwhile, two investigations are pending at the Somerset West depot after the plant’s fifth incident since the blast in 2018. The latter incident is being probed by the department of employment and labour, with a final sitting to be held in December.

The second investigation, by the department, as well as the police, relates to the recent explosion at the site’s N86 magazine building on Sunday evening. As of Thursday, RDM had not yet been granted access to the explosion site.

Helmsen confirmed RDM had appointed its own internal investigation team.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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