Denel explosion: First witness takes stand as public inquiry into blast that killed 8 kicks off

4th May 2021 By: News24Wire

More questions than answers have surfaced surrounding the 2018 blast at the Rheinmetall Denel munitions plant in Somerset West in the Western Cape, which killed eight people.

The first day of the public inquiry heard testimony from a former worker who revealed there was an urgency to mix explosive products, and staff members had to work overtime.

Three witnesses were called to testify before the inquiry, spearheaded by the Department of Labour, following mounting pressure from the victims' families.

Among the witnesses was former operator Fernando Jacobs who worked at the plant for six years.

On the day of the explosion, Jacobs said he had worked in the N16 building where the explosion took place. The building 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. Propellants had been safely blended at the facility without incident since it commenced operations in the 1980s.

Jacobs said he had been on his way to the facility when the explosion occurred.

"I had to take heating repellents to the facility for it to be blended. I heard a sound, like an inhalation sound, and then there was a bang."

He told the inquiry there were a lot of explosives at the premises on the day.

According to Jacobs, there was a limit capacity of explosives in the facility of 2 500, but on the day of the incident, they were over the limit by one ton.

Questions were also raised about why explosives were carried by deceased employer Nico Samuels in his vehicle and why a lighter was found on the premises.

"He had to use a diesel-driven car when transporting explosives; that's the proper way, it was the first time I saw him take his car," Jacobs testified.

The legal representative for the families, Winston Erasmus, asked him if there was any urgency to mix products on the day.

Jacobs replied: "Yes. They didn't explain why there was such a rush but I could see everyone was in a hurry. We were all required to work overtime."