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Universities to investigate causes of Jagersfontein mine dam failure

Department of water and sanitation calls on expert advice to help improve regulation

The Jagersfontein landscape after the dam wall collapsed last year. The department of water and sanitation is taking expert advice to help it improve regulation. File photo.
The Jagersfontein landscape after the dam wall collapsed last year. The department of water and sanitation is taking expert advice to help it improve regulation. File photo.
Image: GCIS

The department of water and sanitation has appointed the universities of Pretoria and Witwatersrand to investigate the causes of the failure of the Jagersfontein tailing storage facility (TSF).  

It has been a year since the disaster, which residents described as “man-made”, struck the southern Free State town, leaving a trail of destruction when sludge flooded the townships of Charlesville and Itumeleng. 

The department said the report is expected to be concluded next year.  

“This is to assist the department to ensure that similar occurrences are prevented in future, and to improve its regulation of tailing dam safety. This is a very complex technical matter, and the investigation is expected to be concluded by the end of March 2024,” said spokesperson Wisane Mavasa.  

In April this year, the department called on all mining houses across the country to register tailing dams that meet the requirements to be classified as dams with safety risks. This is to ensure the structures in the country are regulated.

“These are dams that have a wall height exceeding 5m and are able to store 50,000m³ of liquid,” she said.  

The department intends to gazette a notice to enable it to compel reluctant mining companies to comply and register and to institute enforcement actions against those who do not heed the notice. It is working with the department of mineral resources and energy using satellite technology to identify possible non-complying tailings storage facilities.

Mavasa said the department took a multifaceted approach to hold those responsible accountable, to rehabilitate polluted water resources, and to restore water and sanitation services in the area, as well as to prevent similar tragedies from happening elsewhere in the country. 

The department has since opened a case against the Jagersfontein Development (JD) mining company in terms of the National Water Act pertaining to the release of a substance (slimes/mine process materials) that pollutes or has the potential to pollute water resources.

The case was opened last November in response to the collapsing mine dam which resulted in the loss of lives, left scores homeless and saw the pollution of the environment and water resources.  

“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 the National Prosecution Authority,” said Mavasa. 

The department has also issued numerous directives to JD and instructed the mine to appoint an approved professional person (APP) to oversee the immediate emptying of the remaining compartment 2 of the facility, which still contains a significant volume of tailings.  

This is done to avert another disaster and the APP will assist JD in the decommissioning of the entire tailing dam.  

According to the department, the APP conducted a dam breach analysis to ascertain the level of risks that would be experienced should the remaining compartment fail, and the report was submitted to the department.   

“The process of decanting this compartment 2, which started in August 2023, is under way. Until this decanting process has been completed, the tailings dam is still regarded as unsafe,” she said.

The department issued directives to JD to instruct the company to rehabilitate and restore the watercourses that were affected by the slimes. These include the Wolwas Dam, Kromellenboog River, Proses Spruit, Riet River and the Kalkfontein Dam.  

The work consists of:  

  • containing deposited slimes by placing structures such as retaining walls, weirs, rock packs and silt fences; 
  • removing sludge from preferential flow paths and dams; and
  • removing sludge from slopes, banks and adjacent landscapes or applying bioremediation. 

The department is 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 JD as per the department’s directive, Mavasa added.  

The department confirmed progress on the clearing of residue in the water courses and improving test results in terms of water quality.


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