The Jagersfontein tragedy of 11 September 2022: Who must be held accountable for mine tailings dump management failure – the DMRE or De Beer or Superkolong?

Gaopalelwe-MathibaAuthor: Gaopalelwe Mathiba
Senior Lecturer, Department of Private Law, UCT

Introduction

In the early hours of Sunday 11 September 2022, the Jagersfontein diamond mine tailings dump in the Free State failed by bursting as a result of a sudden collapse of the dump embankment walls. The cause for this collapse remains unknown at this point. The spill of the tailings greyish mud is reported to have stretched widely covering a considerable portion of land surface area of the Jagersfontein farm community. At the time of writing this piece, evacuations were still ongoing in the area and the concrete impact and damage report of the incident was not yet ripe. However, the little that could be ascertained from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) Minister, Gwede Mantashe’s press briefing, where he presented a preliminary incident report, is that at least 28 people suffered minor injuries; while over 40 people were critically injured and hospitalised, with over 5 confirmed fatalities as of that fateful Sunday. In terms of infrastructural damage, the Minister reported that over 9 houses were completely swept away by the spill while around 20 houses were severely damaged. As it should be, this major crisis gives rise to critical questions of accountability, as to who must be held accountable for it and how exactly that accountable person or entity must respond. But not only that, more action is yet to be witnessed on the side of the DMRE in ensuring that this incident is not left unaccounted for and that similar incidents do not recur in the future. This might not be an easy task for the DMRE given the wrestling history it has with De Beers over the Jagersfontein dump, as will be briefly discussed below. What the DMRE actions and the content informing them would entail this time around is yet another fascinating point to observe as the case develops. The aim of this piece is to share some insights into these important issues.

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