Blast victim, 21, wanted to be a cop

Relatives of Jason Hartzenberg, 21, who was killed in the Rheinmetall Denel munitions plant blast, break down outside the entrance of the plant on Tuesday
Relatives of Jason Hartzenberg, 21, who was killed in the Rheinmetall Denel munitions plant blast, break down outside the entrance of the plant on Tuesday
Image: Esa Alexander

Jason Hartzenberg dreamt of being a policeman and had just passed his entrance exam.

But the 21-year-old’s dream died in the blink of an eye on Monday when he was killed, along with several others, in an explosion at the Rheinmetall Denel munitions factory in Macassar‚ near Somerset West.

Hartzenberg’s aunt‚ Marilyn Hartzenberg‚ and his one-yearold child’s grandmother‚ Beverley January‚ stood weeping at the factory gate on Tuesday as a large contingent of the Macassar community – which relies on the plant for 2‚200 jobs – held a church service.

January clutched a picture of her nephew and said he had been planning to leave his parttime job to follow his dream of becoming a policeman.

“He was such an exemplary child. He had a beautiful heart‚” she said.

Hartzenberg was the family’s sole breadwinner after his elder brother‚ Mario‚ was shot three times in gang violence in Macassar. His injuries mean he is unable to work.

Marilyn said Mario and his mother had just returned from a hospital check-up on Monday when Hartzenberg’s friend‚ whom he had just relieved on his shift‚ called with news about the massive explosion.

“She was just recovering from Mario being shot and then she received this news‚” Marilyn said.

Hartzenberg was one of a team of 10 people mixing propellant for 155mm artillery shells at the time of the blast.

At about 3.30pm‚ an earthshaking explosion destroyed the roof and severely damaged the blast wall of the building where they were working.

“We have no idea what went wrong‚” Rheinmetall Denel CEO Norbert Schulze said on Tuesday.

The blast produced tremendous heat‚ Schulze said, after joining state security minister Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba in comforting families of the victims.

None of the dead workers’ bodies had been retrieved yet.

“We are not able to access the site yet‚ it’s not safe yet.

“There are falling rocks and stones and propellant‚ and extreme heat‚” Schulze said.

The City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services said on Monday that eight people had been reported killed in the blast‚ but Schulze said he could not give an estimate of fatalities because no remains had been recovered.

He said the plant was one of the largest of its kind in the world‚ and the only large-calibre munitions production facility in SA.

The complex contained 400 buildings‚ each contained with blast walls to prevent a chain reaction in the event of an explosion like Monday’s.

The EFF has called for compensation for the victims’ families, while Pieter Groenewald of Freedom Front Plus called on Denel to be honest about the cause of the explosion.

“The explosion raises serious questions about the operational safety at the plant,” Groenewald said.

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