Following the tragic collapse of the Jagersfontein tailings storage facility (TSF) in the Free State on September 11, there has been a resurgence of urgent calls for audits of South Africa’s other TSFs.
The collapse of the Jagersfontein TSF claimed one human life and nearly 900 farm animals belonging to at least 25 farmers, while destroying more than 50 houses, ruining water supplies and crops, and displacing nearly 400 people.
Speaking at the Mine Occupational Health and Safety Tripartite Summit, hosted by the Mine Health and Safety Council in Midrand, Gauteng, on October 13, organised labour stakeholder advocate Hanlie van Vuuren called on Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe – who also attended the event – to conduct an urgent and immediate survey of all TSFs in the country.
Mantashe responded by voicing his concerns about the safety of the country’s TSFs, singling out the Free State as having many more TSFs that were akin to the Jagersfontein one and, therefore, posed a similar threat.
He implied that there was a general lack of proper qualifications among those who managed TSFs in South Africa, saying that these employees were qualified in mining, and not in water management.
“The burst of the tailings dam in Jagersfontein is a reminder of the dangers posed to the lives of mining communities by operations that fall outside the Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate. It is a painful lesson on the harm of mine legacy projects,” Mantashe said.
He singled out those in the private sector who were responsible for such disasters, stating that, even though companies exploited loopholes in the regulations by winning cases against the DMRE to sidestep accountability, in the court of public opinion, inside the affected communities, they would be “forever guilty”.
The Jagersfontein collapse is the latest in a series of TSF collapses globally this year, with the previous TSF collapse in South Africa having occurred in December last year at mining investment company Menar’s Zululand Anthracite Colliery, in KwaZulu- Natal.
At the colliery, a slurry dam collapsed, resulting in liquid coal waste pouring into the Black Umfolozi and White Umfolozi river systems, flowing through rural communities and the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi and iSimangaliso wildlife reserves.
While these events have once again highlighted the growing concern about the impact of TSFs on the health of people and animals, as well as the broader environment being exposed to toxic and acidic waste, concerns regarding the preservation of heritage sites have also arisen in the case of Jagersfontein.