Advocate Mike Hellens at the inquiry. Picture by Mwangi Githahu/Cape Argus
Advocate Mike Hellens at the inquiry. Picture by Mwangi Githahu/Cape Argus

Queries about overtime approval dominate Denel inquiry

By Mwangi Githahu Time of article published Oct 22, 2021

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Cape Town - The Department of Employment and Labour’s public commission of inquiry into the fatal 2018 explosion at Cape Town’s Rheinmetall Denel Munitions (RDM) on Thursday, heard evidence on the company’s overtime payment system from RDM’s former safety committee chairperson Louis Minnaar.

The issue of overtime pay came up when Minnaar, who was also the head of the site at the time of the explosion, said the overtime of the workers who died in the explosion had not been approved.

When pushed on the issue by advocate Winston Erasmus for the families of the workers who died in the explosion, Minnaar, said he did not know why the workers had put in unapproved additional hours during the week as overtime usually kicked in over weekends.

Minnaar, who was ultimately in charge of workers getting paid overtime said: “All overtime worked every day, especially over weekends, was approved by me.

“All overtime requests had to be on my desk at noon and then I had to be told what processes were running, why and how many people were working. This was because usually there would be too many people. When I was there, no overtime was worked without prior approval,” said Minnaar.

RDM machine operator Shafieka Naidoo giving evidence at the inquiry. Picture by Mwangi Githahu/Cape Argus

The inquiry also heard from machine operator Shafieka Naidoo who advocate Mike Hellens, for RDM questioned closely about factory supervisor Nico Samuels who died in the explosion.

Hellens took issue with Naidoo suggesting that Samuels had been under pressure from the site’s deputy director Vershan Govender, who testified on Tuesday, that nothing unusual happened on the day of the explosion.

Hellens dismissed Naidoo’s evidence as hearsay because on the fateful day, she was not part of the operations taking the CBI single-base propellant that was being produced, and which is thought to have been responsible for the explosion, to the N16 plant of RDM.

The final witness of the day was Ernest Hodgson, a retired training manager who had been an employee of RDM at the time of the incident and was on the company's modification committee.

Hodgson’s evidence was given virtually, as he has been severely ill and was unable to come in person to the Community House in Salt River where the inquiry is being held for fear of infection.

Hodgson told the inquiry that there were certain protocols, including risk assessments that had to be followed and that if these had not been followed to the letter, there was likely to have been negligence to blame for the explosion which killed the eight workers and destroying the entire building and the immediate surrounding blast walls.

The inquiry will today, Friday, hear from its last two witnesses before wrapping up.

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Cape Argus

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