Macassar residents, anti-war activists and community activists are calling for the ammunitions manufacturer Rheinmetall Denel Munition to heed their calls and close down in a responsible and considerate fashion.
The pressure on the company stems from a variety of factors, including a deadly explosion at the arms factory in Macassar on 3 September 2018 which killed eight workers and reportedly wounded one more person nearby.
A recently concluded internal report by the arms factory essentially declares the workers as responsible for the explosion, saying that “due process was not followed and, instead, an attempt to rework the material was made by adding extra graphite to the propellant.” The report continues “the most likely cause was a combination of human error and a highly complex electrostatic electricity risk, which investigators believe would have been highly unlikely for the deceased to foresee.”
The Greater Macassar Civic Association held a public meeting on 28 November 2019 to discuss the community’s grievances and concerns.
“The findings of the internal investigation say it was a human error…What they are saying is that they are blaming one of the workers, which is unacceptable. We want Rheinmetall to take responsibility because it happened inside the workplace, not outside,” said the Greater Macassar Civic Association’s deputy chairperson, Rhoda-Ann Bazier.
The community surrounding the arms factory seems to feel at risk – not only because of potential explosions and other similar factory incidents but because of pollution concerns.
“Since the last census Macassar has grown so much. There’s approximately 500 000 people that stay in Macassar and a munitions factory inside the area is very dangerous… It’s an environmental risk for our community,” said Bazier.
Bazier says the dust that falls out of the factory becomes potentially harmful and explosive and argued that maintenance and security standards at the facility have dropped dramatically. She continued, saying that retired workers from the factory rarely end up living healthy lives after their time at the factory as a result of a toxic environment and cancer.
Another concern raised was that the arms company could be complicit in wars in the Middle East. According to Terry Crawford-Browne, the founder of the World Beyond War – South Africa, about 85 percent of RDM’s production is for export, mainly to the Middle East and, in particular, to Saudi Arabia and UAE.
RDM designed and installed an entire ammunition factory in Saudi Arabia in 2016, which was opened by former President Zuma with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“RDM-supplied munitions were subsequently identified by Bellingcat monitoring agency as used to commit Saudi and UAE war crimes in Yemen and, in particular, the attack by the Saudi-UAE coalition on the Hodeidah hospital in August 2018 that killed scores of patients,” said Crawford-Browne.
Addressing concerns around job losses if the factory shuts its doors, Bazier insists that the company should leave responsibly and considerately.
“Rheinmetall is a German company and they have a lot of other factories…[they should] do the honourable thing if they shut down – decontaminate the grounds and bring other factories to the community.”
Bazier indicated that they have had a meeting with the premier of the Western Cape, asked for an inquest and want a public hearing to take place.
“The families are saying that Rheinmetall Denel murdered their children and husbands.”
VOC News reached out to RDM for a comment, but they declined.