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The Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party in the Western Cape say they are extremely disappointed by the ‘refusal’ of the Director of Public Prosecutions Western Cape division to prosecute Rheinmetall-Denel Munitions for the 2018 explosion at the company’s plant in Somerset West that claimed the lives of 8 workers.

“As the SACP and COSATU, we have resolved to approach the Ministers of Justice, Labour and Police to seek justice for the deceased workers and their families. Furthermore, the police ineptitude and complicity in the cover-up will be reported to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate,” reads the statement from the partners in the tripartite alliance.

NPA disagrees with public inquiry

The families and the community of Macassar called for a public hearing as they were not satisfied with the explanation offered by the arms manufacturer that the cause of the explosion was an “ignition propellant”, commonly known as gun-cotton. The public hearings, conducted by the Department of Employment and Labour in three different sittings between May 2021 and April 2022, found that based on the testimonies by the workers, the company was responsible for the accident. The witnesses at the hearings painted a picture of structural shortcomings, defective designs as well as unnecessary overtime being put in when there were no large orders. It also heard of the necessary risk assessments for key plant fittings not being carried out.

Allan Boesak addressing the community meeting in Macassar that called for a public inquiry into the explosion. Archive photo by Mzi Velapi

At the end of the public inquiry, chairperson of the inquiry and inspector from the Department of Employment and Labour, Mphumzi Dyulete recommended that the company be criminally prosecuted.

But, a letter to the representatives of the families signed by the director of public prosecutions in the Western Cape, advocate Nicollete Bell, states that after considering the evidence and representations, they have decided “not to institute any prosecution in the matter”. Eric Ntabazalila, the spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority in the Western Cape, said that the available evidence does not give them a reasonable prospect of successful prosecution.

Cosatu and the SACP describe the decision by the DPP as a “cover-up which represents a miscarriage of justice … This confirms that the company places the lives of workers at risk in pursuit of profit. It further confirms that the company is not compliant with the provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. In addition, the lack of prosecution protects the company at the expense of poor workers and therefore the state is complicit,” reads their joint statement.

Mphumzi Dyulete, the chairperson of the Rheinmetall-Denel blast inquiry, recommended that the company must be criminally prosecuted. Archive photo by Mzi Velapi

In a press statement published in February this year, Rheinmetall-Denel Munitions (RDM) boasts of three new contracts in artillery and ammunition to the value of over R11-billion. The company is a joint venture of Rheinmetall Germans subsidiary, Rheinmetall Waffe und Munition GmbH, which holds a 51% stake, and Denel (Pty) Ltd. of South Africa. According to media reports, Denel has received over R9-billion in government bailouts over the past four years.