'Always remember these fine men' – munitions blast families, friends mourn

2018-09-20 20:17

The families of the eight men who died in an explosion at the Rheinmetall Denel Munition factory near Somerset West were honoured at a memorial service attended by more than 1 000 people at the company's premises on Thursday.

"We are all of us changed forever," said Norbert Schulze, CEO of the R2bn-a-year company whose workers are still reeling from the loss of their colleagues.

"It's a change we recognise in each other's eyes when we meet," said Schulze, promising that the company would "walk the long road" with the deceased's families. 

He said he had never seen a community pull together and support each other the way they had after that fateful day. However, he warned of days ahead when they would be overcome by grief.

"As a man, I want to say it is okay, it is right and it is healthy to express that grief.

"We also need to recognise that grief is not something to be put in a box and locked away."

He urged people to seek out counselling and watch out for each other in the coming months. 

The eight killed on September 3 were: 

  • Nico Angelo Samuels, aged 41, plant supervisor;
  • Stevon Robert Isaacs, aged 51, team leader;
  • Mxolisi Sigadla, aged 40, operator;
  • Bradley Tandy, aged 19, operator;
  • Jamie Lesley Haydricks, aged 24, operator;
  • Jason Hartzenberg, aged 22, operator;
  • Triston Lance David, aged 22, operator; and
  • Thandolwethu Mankayi, aged 27, operator.

Denel board chairperson Monhla Hlahla said she had only been chairperson since April 2018, but when she heard about the deaths of the eight, it was like losing her own sons.

She said looking at biographies of those killed she saw all the things companies look for, and loved that their colleagues called them "beautiful" in their tributes.

She said it was okay to look for somebody to blame, and told the mourners the company had nothing to hide.

"I want to say to this community: Congratulations. Congratulations because you have loved so deep. It is that love which is going to stand out in this country."

She paid tribute to Schulze as an outstanding leader "listening to us crying left and right", and providing leadership during the crisis.

READ: 'We want to know what happened'- Numsa wants in on RDM munitions blast probe

Premier Helen Zille offered her deepest sympathy on behalf of the Western Cape government to the families and colleagues of the eight.

"There's nobody here who can understand the depth of your pain."

The service was led by South African Human Rights Commission commissioner Chris Nissen, who is also a church reverend.

Company 'not a monster'

Earlier, Jacob Japhta, speaking on behalf of the family and friends of Samuels, asked Schulze to stand up and apologised to him for negative comments made about him and the company at the time of the blast. 

"The company is not a monster," said Japhta. 

Friends, former colleagues and family each had a turn to say a few words about the deceased, during a programme interspersed by hymns and prayers. 

Sitting in a vast tent at the company's premises, mourners were told that Tandy, from Macassar, was very active at Sunday school and catechism classes and had not even got around to exploring the outside world, staying behind to start work as his friends left the area.

David, also from Macassar, started off with basic ambulance training after school in pursuit of his dream of being a paramedic, but put going further in the course aside to get a job as soon as possible.

He had a brown belt in karate, was secretary of Christian Youth Ministry and loved keeping fit. 

Hartzenberg taught dancing to neighbourhood children, fixed bicycles in his spare time and was "everybody's barber". 

Investigation into blast still ongoing

Sigadla was described as "an island of hope in a sea of danger" and was very committed to his work, said Sibongile Bubesi on behalf of friends and family.

Sigadla hailed from Idutywa in the Eastern Cape and had a certificate in public management and loved soccer and jazz.

Mankayi grew up in nearby Mfuleni and was a driver before joining Rheinmetall Denel Munition. He loved skating, soccer, music and DJing. The family he left behind includes a 6-year-old daughter.

Stevon Isaacs, with 33 years of service, loved the All Blacks and Chelsea and left school early to help support his family after his father died.  

Ward councillor Victor Isaacs said: "They actually died in the line of [duty] for our families. Because they were breadwinners."

Isaacs said Rheinmetall Denel Munition had also become much closer to the community after the blast.

The mourners were told that the investigation by the department of labour and the chief director for explosives was still ongoing.


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