Jagersfontein mine dam disaster: One year later, what has been done?
The mining company has been criminally charged for the Jagersfontein disaster, but decanting the unstable structure only started last month.
A vehicle that was swept away by mud in Charlesville township, Jagersfontein, on 12 September 2022, after a mine dam burst, killing three people and leaving some community members homeless. Picture: Nigel Sibanda
It has been 12 months since the disastrous tailings dam at the Jagersfontein diamond mine collapsed, flooding the small southern Free State townships of Charlesville and Itumeleng.
The mine dam tragedy claimed the lives of three people, destroyed vehicles and left 160 residents homeless when the sludge flooded the Jagersfontein communities. It has also polluted the environment and water resources.
The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) recently reported on its efforts to bring those responsible for the societal and ecological disaster to account, as well as provided an outline of its action plan to rehabilitate the affected area in the Kopanong Local Municipality.
The report follows complaints by the victims about the slow progress in launching an official investigation into the disaster.
Jagersfontein tailings dam collapse: DWS timeline of progress
The department confirmed that it criminally charged the mining company Jagersfontein Developments Pty (Ltd) on 4 November 2022.
“Processes to finalise evidence gathering and collecting scientific and engineering information on the case have been concluded, and the department will now be issuing a warning statement to the alleged transgressor before the file is handed to National Prosecution Authority (NPA),” the DWS said in its report.
The department also revealed that it has directed the mining company to appoint an Approved Professional Person (APP) to oversee the immediate emptying of the remaining compartment-2 of the Tailings Storage Facility (TSF).
As instructed by the department, the APP had to analyze the risk of a dam breach if Compartment 2 were to fail. They submitted a report describing the remaining risk to the department.
“In addition, the appointed APP will assist JD in the decommissioning of the entire tailings dam,” the DWS affirmed.
April 2023: Call to mining companies to register high-risk dams
In April 2023, the DWS issued a nationwide call to mining companies, urging them to step forward and officially register tailings dams that meet the criteria for classification as high-risk dams.
These criteria include dams with a wall height exceeding five metres and a capacity to store 50,000 cubic metrer of liquid.
August 2023: Decanting
The process of emptying out compartment 2, which started in August 2023, is currently underway.
Until this decanting process has been completed, the department has confirmed that the tailings dam is still regarded as unsafe.
Universities to investigate Jagersfontein mine dam failure
“Furthermore, the department has appointed the universities of Pretoria and the Witwatersrand to investigate the causes of the failure of the Jagersfontein TSF.
“This is to assist the department to ensure that similar occurrences are prevented in future, and to improve its regulation of tailing dam safety,” the DWS confirmed in a statement.
March 2024 set as completion date of investigation
The investigation is expected to be concluded by the end of March 2024.
The department said it was also monitoring the impact on the quality of surface and groundwater sources as a result of the incident, by assessing monthly water quality results submitted by Jagersfontein Developments (JD) as per the department’s directive.
DWS plans to publish an official notice, granting it the authority to compel mining companies that are unwilling to adhere to registration requirements and take legal action against those who disregard the notice. It was announced that the department is collaborating with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) and utilising satellite technology to identify potential non-compliant tailings storage facilities.
DWS has issued a directive to JD, instructing the company to undertake the restoration and rehabilitation of watercourses affected by the slimes resulting from the dam failure.
These watercourses include Wolwas Dam, Kromellenboog River, Proses Spruit, Riet River, and Kalkfontein Dam.