All hands on deck at Jagersfontein tailings dam disaster

The mine dam collapsed on Sunday in the Kopanong Local Municipality in the Free State, leading to the death of one person and displacement of many others. Photo: Supplied

The mine dam collapsed on Sunday in the Kopanong Local Municipality in the Free State, leading to the death of one person and displacement of many others. Photo: Supplied

Published Sep 13, 2022


President Cyril Ramaphosa yesterday addressed Jagersfontein residents in the Free State, saying the government was there to support the community and restore livelihoods in the wake of the collapse of part of Jagersfontein Developments’ mine’s tailings dam at the weekend, which led to the loss of life and a flood of water that devastated homes.

He said in light of this disaster the government would call on the Mining Council and other non-governmental organisations to come and help support the people of Jagersfontein to rebuild.

The historic mine dam collapsed on Sunday, in the Kopanong Local Municipality in the Free State, leading to the death of one person, and displacement of many others.

The cause of the collapse has yet to be determined. The mine’s tailings dam collapsed at about 6am on Sunday. The flow of water had stopped by Sunday afternoon.

After the dam collapsed on Sunday, the government through the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma activated a National Disaster Management Centre for the affected communities.

“The tailings of the abandoned local mine burst open, leading to damage to infrastructure, personal property, and homes. The untold damages in and around the community of Charlesville in Jagersfontein are extensive and have negatively impacted the community,” Dlamini Zuma said.

This as Jagersfontein Developments said yesterday in a statement it was devastated by the breach at its slimes dam yesterday and impacts to the local community.

“We have made R20 million available immediately for those affected and the restoration of the town.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the family of the single fatality and the speedy recovery of those injured in the disaster.

“The treatment facility has stabilised activity at the dam,” it said, adding that it was co-operating with local authorities and would offer every assistance to the community while undertaking a full investigation,” it said.

The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) said yesterday in an interview that it was engaging with Jagersfontein Developments on the way forward.

DWS spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said the department had “in the past dealt with Jagersfontein Developments and had warned them in 2020 about its dangers”.

"We issued a directive to the mine about two years ago, about the issues around the dam. But we also received as expected, a report from the engineers around August of this year, that the dam was stable,“ he said.

Diamond miner De Beers were the original owners. It was then owned by Reinet Investments, a Luxenbourg-based business run by Richemont chairman Johann Rupert, but was sold earlier this year to Dubai’s Stargems.

“These (Stargems) are the ones that we are actually engaging and with their employees through their mine manager. So the current owners will be the ones responsible for whatever activity that is happening on the mine,” he said.

According to Ratau, the department has now advised Jagersfontein Developments to empty the second compartment of the tailings dam because of the failure of the one compartment on Sunday.

“Let’s rather be safe than sorry,” he said.

The department had given the company special dispensation to empty the second compartment into a pit that was on that property, which could then reduce the pressure on the second compartment and reduce the possibility of the second component failing.

“We will also to sample the water and test it for nitrates for pH balance, and arsenic to ensure that the number of components in the water is not harmful to the environment, people or livestock,” he said.

Based on the outcomes of the tests, the department would be able to make a decision about the way forward.

“Our colleagues are going to also look at some of the regulations. That is in line with the activities on the mine to ensure that they can give the necessary guidance,” he said.

Ratau said companies need to know that they must not take any activity for granted.

“The environment needs to be safeguarded, the ecosystems, lives and livelihoods protected,” he said.

Meanwhile,the Minerals Council South Africa said it was saddened by the tragedy unfolding at Jagersfontein in the Free State after the collapse of the dam, and it recommitted its members to the highest standards of tailings and waste- rock dump management.

Minerals Councils spokesperson Allan Seccombe said the Minerals Council would not comment on the dam or the ownership of the dam tailings.

“The Minerals Council has sent a senior delegation to Jagersfontein today to assess what humanitarian assistance, the council and its members can offer the people living around the tailings dam and those affected by this tragedy,” he said.

The South African Local Government Association (Salga) also sent its condolences to the community of Jagersfontein.

“We have been in touch with our key stakeholders whom we work with on issues of disaster to develop a disaster support plan and provide basic necessities, as a matter of urgency.

“Furthermore, we are working closely with the joint operations committee (JOC) led by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs to speedily assist the community and the municipality, and have deployed a team to to do assessments on site,” it said.

Salga said it was part of the team that would today revisit the area to have first-hand information and identify the necessary interventions.

“We will in due course communicate response measures to be put in place to ensure immediate assistance to the community and the municipality, as well as other interventions to ensure basic infrastructure is restored as speedily as possible,” it said.