Tunatazama - Community Monitors


Makhotla Sefuli

Makhotla Sefuli
Matjhabeng local municipality
Lejoeleputsoa district municipality

Free State Province
28th September 2022


September 11th will always go down as the most loathed and abominated day in history.

11th September 1973 is the day known as the birth and the death of a nation in Chile.

11th September 2001 was the day of the terrorist attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York city.

11th September 2022 South Africa witnessed one of the most horrific disasters in the history of mining in this country.

Ironically on the first two occasions it was on Tuesday while in the South African instance it was on a Sunday. The only common feature in all three occasions was tragedy, destruction, loss of life and horrendous human misery.

Diamond mining in the small Free State town of Jagersfontein has always been the pride and hope for the local residents. The mine provided employment and shelter for many of the residents, young people couldn’t think of any source of livelihood except finishing school and finding employment on the mine.

Since it was first established in 1870, two of the ten biggest diamonds ever discovered were mined at Jagersfontein. The mine has previously operated as an open cast but later changed to underground after thirty nine years of operation.
This operation lasted for over half a century when the mine was officially closed on May 24th 1971.
For all these years the mine was under De Beers but reopened under the new ownership by Stargems, but has through a number of owners that include Superkolong, Sonop Diamonds and Reinet that is owned by Johann Rupert.

Johann Rupert did however sell his assets just months before the tragic incident of September 11th 2022.

As the investigative monitors of Gubico and the Benchmarks team, we visited the disaster area over the weekend of 16th to 17th September. What greeted us was nothing but destruction and poverty that has been brought by the outburst of the tailings dam on the early hours of the morning of that fateful day.

According to the eyewitnesses, the dam started to show the first signs of decantation around 02h00 in the morning. The security guard who was on duty alerted the management but was told that nothing will happen to the dam wall, at around 06h00 in the morning the first implosion occurred on the eastern side of the dam. While the local residents were still reeling with shock from what they just witnessed, the second implosion occurred on the southern side. This is the implosion that brought the slime to flow directly into the residential area of Charlesville. Charlesville is the village that was built by De Beers for its employees but the houses are now owned mostly by the former mine employees and the children whose parents died while working on the mine.

The effect of the disaster is evident from as far as five kilometers before you enter the town from Bloemfontein. The road is completely covered with slime and embankments that are broken and the debris bears a clear testimony of the calamity that befell the area.

Two cars that were traveling in opposite directions were swept away from the road, the electric sub station is still submerged in the slime. Half of the township is still buried under the under the rubble. Four houses were completely flattened and only the foundation can bear testimony that there was once a structure there
Two people were confirmed dead while three are still missing and cannot be traced. The search and rescue team is still busy trying to locate their bodies.
Some people lost everything while others are still trying to salvage whatever they can from the debris.

There is no electricity, most of the infrastructure is destroyed and the communication is difficult as some parts of the township cannot access wifi because everything is still buried under the slime.

Gift of the Givers organization was able to provide food that lasted only for a few days. Some people lost even the house unrensils such as pots and cutlery to make meals. Local tuckshops are running out of supplies as a result of lack of electricity and business is a slow and painful death.
One lady gave us an account of how her sister in law is still missing because she slipped through her husband’s hands and the man was watching as his wife was swallowed by the torrent of the mud slide. The man only managed to save the child.

Current and former employees of the mine say that the DWS did warn the mining company that the dam can no longer continue to be used, but the management turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the warnings.

The visit to this disaster stricken area displayed what is only a dress rehearsal of what is likely to happen to other areas who riside close to the tailings and are still hosting the mine

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