Our Burning Planet


Trail of destruction after Free State diamond mine dam burst leaves destitute residents in shock and searching for relatives

Trail of destruction after Free State diamond mine dam burst leaves destitute residents in shock and searching for relatives
Nomzwakhe Saula sitting with her family on what used to be a home after the tailings dam burst open from the nearby local mine in Jagersfontein on 12 September 2022.Photo:Felix Dlangamandla

Residents of the area devastated by the Jagersfontein diamond mine dam burst stood around in shock on Monday, looking at the destruction of their neighbourhood.

Winston Mohajana (51) was roaming the streets of Jagerfontein in the Free State on Monday, searching for his family. His neighbourhood, Charlesville, was devastated when a tailings dam wall at the Jagersfontein diamond mine broke on Sunday, flooding low-lying houses. Families were evacuated and, according to the latest statistics from the Free State Department of Health, more than 70 people were treated at the local hospital.

“When I came home from work, there was nothing left of my house and I could not find my family. Still, today, I cannot find my wife and kid,” Mohajana said on Monday evening.

He is now staying with a friend and only has the clothes on his back. “I lost everything,” he said.

In photos: See the destructive force of the Jagersfontein mine dam wall collapse

Another resident, Wanda Malunga (62), was making himself a cup of tea on Sunday when he heard screaming. He went outside and saw a massive mudslide approaching fast and destroying everything in its path. His house was destroyed and today only the foundation is left.  

Malunga’s sister, Nthabiseng Moloi, said her late husband, who died three years ago, had predicted the disaster. He said the dam wall had been leaking and would rupture eventually.

Residents from the surrounding area stood around in shock on Monday, looking at what remained of their neighbourhood. Houses were flattened and cars swept away.  

Some of the residents are being housed with friends and family in the area, and at hotels in Bloemfontein — about 120km away.

President Cyril Ramaphosa listens to residents of Charlesville. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

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During his visit to the town, President Cyril Ramaphosa promised residents that the government would assist them with clothes, food and accommodation.

In the town centre, a handmade poster reads: “We told them, they did not listen, now this.” 

During a meeting with Ramaphosa in the town hall at Fauresmith — the neighbouring town — residents voiced their disappointment that the provincial government had not heeded their warnings that the dam was leaking.

Owners of Free State diamond mine ‘were warned to cease operations two years ago’

Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela and members of her provincial Cabinet have been in the area since Sunday. Search and rescue teams were hard at work on Monday.

Police, Roads and Transport MEC William Bulwane said his department had been delivering humanitarian aid, and a number of roads had been temporarily closed to be stabilised and repaired.

Hundreds of volunteers, including Gift of the Givers, the Al-Imdaad Foundation and Shoprite workers, were delivering water, food and basic sanitation necessities to the destitute. 

The owner of the tailings dam, Jagersfontein Developments, on Monday confirmed that one person had died in the disaster and one person was still missing. It said it had made R20-million available for relief operations.  

“The dam went through independent engineering inspections in July 2022, during which it was found to be safe and volumes were within limits,” the company said.

An independent water analysis had found that the wastewater is not hazardous and does not pose a health risk, the company said. DM

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Sam Shu says:

    Privatized profits, socialized costs. And so the mining industry continues

  • fishingboy says:

    Very sad indeed and a blight on the mining industry. Looks like people have forgotten the Merriespruit disaster.
    Why was the operation not shut down 2years ago? The Mines Dept has equal blame in this.

    • Malcolm McManus says:

      And the engineers if they have signed off the dam as safe. The necessary documentation needs to be examined. A thorough investigation needs to take place.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    To stop the incompetence of the ANC government and the negligence of the mining companies we need to have criminal prosecutions of those responsible to ensure that this does not happen. The Minister and the DG to be charged for murder, attempted murder, criminal negligence leading to damage and loss of property as well as being sued for vicarious liability together with the mining companies. Otherwise this will continue and we will have many of these that lead to environmental damage. The captured NPA needs a mechanism to make it independent by making the appointment of its head to have a time limit and the removal of the NDPP be made two thirds of parliament and a public inquiry for the removal should be requirements. A state capturer led process that appointed Batohi raises a lot of questions. Jeff Radebe is the ultimate thug who destroyed the NPA to enable state capture. He needs to be criminally investigated.

  • Mari Bekker says:

    Getting access to those independent reports, from the engineering inspections and the water analysis, might be insightful and reassuring to the local community.

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