South Africa


Rebuilding of houses begins after Free State mine tragedy, search and recovery mission continues

Rebuilding of houses begins after Free State mine tragedy, search and recovery mission continues
Destroyed houses during the National Council of Province in the Free State oversight visit to Jagersfontein to give feedback on the assessment of the dam wall disaster on 21 September 2022 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Volksblad / Mlungisi Louw)

Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela says the rebuilding of damaged and destroyed homes in Jagersfontein would start on Monday, 26 September.

Owners of the Jagersfontein mine tailings dam, which collapsed three weeks ago, killing one person and leaving a trail of destruction, have vowed not to rest until the town and the livelihoods of the residents are restored. Two people are still missing.

The mine has been instructed to cease all operations relating to mineral processing of the tailings and disposal of water containing waste, coarse tailings and any other materials, pending the detailed incident and water quality status reports.  

Owners of the tailings dam, Jagersfontein Developments, have requested more time to submit the reports.   

Meanwhile, the Free State government has promised to rebuild the homes of more than 160 people.  

Premier Sisi Ntombela, attending the funeral of the sole victim of the tragedy, pledged at the weekend to ensure that the rebuilding of the homes would start on Monday, 26 September, and be completed by the end of the year.  

This comes as a commission of inquiry into the collapse of the dam wall, led by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, is expected to get under way. 

In a statement, Jagersfontein Developments said it had undertaken extensive clean-up operations in the affected town and its surroundings, and had been providing aid to the community.  

This company has already made R20-million in relief funds available for the displaced residents by providing food parcels, supplies and alternative accommodation, as well as settling their medical bills.   

“The company remains devastated by the collapse. Our heartfelt sympathies are extended to the community. We will not rest until the town is restored and the livelihoods of the residents are returned,” the company said.

“The tailings dam remains stable and engineers and inspectors are monitoring the surrounding environment. Restoration efforts continue in earnest.”

Water and electricity to the town have been restored.  

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

The water from the tailings dam was initially feared to be contaminated or to contain toxic substances, but the company said it had received confirmation that the wastewater was not hazardous. 

The provincial government said water samples had been collected. 

“The department of water and sanitation collected the water quality samples for analysis and the results were received on 22 September 2022. The analysis on the results will be done and further steps will be identified based on the findings from the analysed results,” said the premier’s spokesperson, Palesa Chubisi. 

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Dead and missing

The department says the death toll as a result of the disaster remains at one. A 70-year-old Mr Mosweu has been identified by the forensic unit as the only confirmed fatality. 

However, 50-year-old Mantele Mokhali and 70-year-old Shadrack Williams are still unaccounted for.

“The search and rescue mission remains activated in this regard,” said spokesperson Sello Peterson. He said the province would at the end of the week hold a candlelight vigil for the missing people, if they are not found. 

A mobile clinic has been set up on site where the victims are housed for the purpose of regular consultations, the province said. 

Chubisi said that in Sandstone Sleeper Estate, where about 63 victims are staying, four patients were seen by the medical team – three children and an adult. An ambulance was called for a nine-month-old baby with a cough and taken to hospital.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Trail of destruction after Free State diamond mine dam burst leaves destitute residents in shock and searching for relatives

Following the disaster, the provincial government said Jagersfontein Developments was instructed to immediately cease all operations relating to mineral processing of the tailings and disposal of water containing waste, coarse tailings and any other materials.  

“The operations have stopped, and the Department of Water and Sanitations (DWS) is monitoring the situation. Jagersfontein Developments (JD) was requested to submit a detailed incident report with full details of the cause of the incident, extent of the damage or impact and relevant water quality status reports of all affected water resources.”

The company is yet to submit an extensive report.  

“JD requested more time to submit the details of water-quality results and some detailed impact reports which are awaited from specialists. A draft report without specialist reports and water quality was received on 21 September and DWS is assessing it,” said Chubisi. DM

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