The World Got Diamonds. A Mining Town Got Buried in Sludge.

by admin
0 comment

JAGERSFONTEIN, SOUTH AFRICA — The earthen walls that hold the muddy waste from diamond mining have grown over the years to resemble a broad, towering plateau. The dam, which stopped like a frozen tsunami over an orderly patch of Monopoly-like homes, alerted residents who feared the dam might collapse.

Memane Paulus, a machine operator at the dam for the past decade, said:

Part of a dam collapsed this month, sending gray sludge torrentially across the community, killing at least one person, destroying 164 homes, and destroying six miles of residential land and grasslands. has changed. on the gray wasteland.

The Jaegersfontein disaster is a wake-up call for a country where dams laden with mining waste known as tailings are part of the landscape. Experts estimate there are hundreds of tailings dams in South Africa. This is the legacy of an exploitative industry that extracts lucrative gemstones for jewelers abroad, while poor communities are plagued with toxic waste at home.

Home to one of the world’s oldest diamond mines, the townsfolk of Jägersfontein saw waste walls towering over their homes and streets. But it was a big business, so there was little they could do to stop it.

A consortium that had purchased mining waste from the mine’s previous owner, De Beers, had been sifting through the tailings and extracting the remaining diamonds. In doing so, operations piled up even more waste and government oversight became lax. Some miners were horrified when their colleagues reported they had found a leak in the dam.

“It could definitely have been avoided,” he said. Alliance for a Sustainable Environment, an environmental group focused on the mining industry. “The damage to ecosystems, human lives and future generations – the risks are significant.”

international mining Similar dam collapse in Brazil killed three years ago 250+Some of the major mining operators have collaborated to develop standards for tailings dams. However, many smaller operators, such as Jägersfontein, are not following standards and lack the resources and expertise to manage tailings dams, Liefeling said.

Marius de Villiers, compliance officer at the mine operator Jagersfontein Development, said it complies with all the requirements set by South African regulators. He said the dam was inspected regularly, and his July engineering report had declared the dam structurally sound.

“I never thought something like this would happen,” de Villiers said. He said that while the company was still investigating the dam breach, it “must accept the responsibility that comes with the operation and the breach.”

Around 2 a.m. on Sunday, September 11, a truck driver at the dam discovered a crack in the front, several workers said in interviews that day. The driver reported it to the foreman, who checked but did nothing, the worker said.

Mine pan operator Joe McCullah-Jane didn’t see the crack himself, but he said he spoke to the driver who was finishing his shift.

“He said, ‘It’s going to explode.’ Of management, he added, ‘They weren’t taking it seriously.’

de Villiers and plant manager Johan Combrink denied reports of cracks earlier that day.

The dam wall collapsed between 6:00 and 7:00 am. Some residents are furious at the prospect that they could have been alerted earlier.

Rio Rita Breitenbach, whose home is near the dam, stood in her kitchen chair as a barrage of slime shelled toward her. She was swept out of her chair and kicked out of her house. Breitenbach, 39, said he was caught in a raging current and was paddling on his back through the mud trying to keep his head above the water.

“I was praying that I would survive,” she said.

She eventually came to rest on a farm, where police found her – over six miles from her home.

Sludge has wiped out much of the two residential areas to the south and east. The fields, which stretched for miles, looked like frozen cement lakes, some dotted with wrecked cars and sunken utility poles.

Jack Sefaka was visiting his mother across town when the dam broke. He stared in horror from afar—to the best of his knowledge, with his wife and one of his sons in his three beds. Room’s house had been swept away.

“I thought they were dead,” he said.

To his relief, his wife eventually called his mother and said she had made it to the shelter.

Now he needs to rebuild the house he bought 20 years ago for R40,000 ($2,300) and is now missing the entire front door.

Sefaka said he worked there shortly after the mines reopened in 2010, but quit four years later due to poor conditions.

“I wasn’t happy,” he said. In “Stress in the Mine”.

But the mining problem still caught up with him.

The Jagersfontein mine, where the first diamonds were mined by colonial settlers in 1870, is a remnant of the diamond rush that often exploited South African blacks while enriching their white owners. A 650-carat diamond, one of the largest in the world, was acquired and cut by an English merchant. jubilee diamondnamed after Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

De Beers, a global mining giant, operated mines from 1932 to 1971. He sued for the right to mine tailings without a mining license, Won lawsuit in 2007.

De Beers then sold Tailings at Jagersfontein in 2010 to a consortium that eventually came under the control of South African billionaire Johann Rupert, who owns luxury brands such as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. . In April, just six months before the bankruptcy, Rupert’s holding company Reinet Investments SCA sold its entire stake in Jagersfontein Development to Dubai-based diamond manufacturer and retailer Stargems. Star Gem announcement.

Reinet did not respond to a request for comment.

Tracy Lynn Field, a law professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg who specializes in environmental and mining law, said companies could be prosecuted for violating South Africa’s environmental and water laws or pay compensation. said it may be forced to Government officials may also have to answer, she said.

A 2007 ruling in the De Beers case removed liability for tailings dams from the government’s minerals sector. Because the tailings are treated at dams, Field said, the Department of Water and Sanitation has overseen them, despite having limited expertise in the mining industry.

Residents said they were thrilled to believe there would be jobs when the mine revived in 2010.

But soon, they were coughing from all the dust in the air and watching anxiously as the earthen facade of the dam nearly doubled in height.

“We kept saying, ‘What if something happens here?

Fears mounted in recent years when residents said they regularly witnessed water seeping through the walls of the dam. She Xolani Tseletsele, the mayor of Jagersfontein, said members of the community expressed their concerns to officials at the water department.

However, plant manager Kombring denied that there had been a leaking problem at the dam or that workers had reported holes in the façade. He attributed the dampness to the rainwater runoff.

Inspectors visited the dam and ordered it to cease operations in January 2021 for several violations, according to a copy of the water authority’s order. Chief among them was that the facility treated more than 2.5 times more waste at the dam than he was allowed in 2020, making it difficult for department personnel to handle the waste. It continued to process waste even after I told it to stop.

Five months later, the agency agreed to put Jagersfontein Development under closer scrutiny, noted in a memorandum that it had installed new equipment to reduce wastewater dumping into the dam, and allowed the facility to reopen. did. In a memo, the water authority said Jagersfontein Development still needed to address dam safety issues raised in an independent engineering report, but gave the company neither instructions nor a deadline to do so. Is not …

Richard Spoor, an attorney with decades of experience in litigating mining cases, said it was unusual for water officials to allow the reopening “he found the high-level reports indicated serious risks”. said.

Water authority spokesman Sputnik Ratau said the dam was allowed to reopen while safety issues were addressed because dam officials had already met other conditions.

Jagersfontein Development built a new section of the dam in 2018, according to its 2019 annual report filed by Reinet Investments. This increases capacity by 30% and improves profitability.

Despite its expansion, the dam still had capacity issues. We have applied for a permit to dump the waste into the original mining pit, which is a national heritage site.

Analysis of satellite images A survey conducted by a data and analytics firm after the collapse showed that the corners of the collapsed dam were slightly deformed from August 1 to 13, indicating weakness, said geologist Dave. says Petley. at the University of Hull, England. He said the new section was a mess.

Mining companies and regulators with the appropriate expertise should have caught these warning signs, he said.

For Sefaka, a former miner whose home was destroyed, this was the final chapter in a long life of mining that he felt had brought little benefit to the community.

“It hurts,” he said, looking at the wreckage.

John Eligon Reported by Jagersfontein, Lindsey Tutel Originally from Johannesburg.

You may also like

Leave a Comment