Jagersfontein disaster: Dubai-based owner says survey showed dam was ‘safe, secure’

Stargems Group, a Dubai-based diamond merchant, said it’s probing the collapse of a dam containing mining waste in South Africa that triggered heavy flooding and resulted in three people dying  and property being damaged.

About nine houses were swept away and 20 damaged when the reservoir wall at the abandoned Jagersfontein diamond mine gave away on Sunday, Nathi Shabangu, a spokesman for the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, said in a text message. In addition to the three people killed, four were reported missing, while 23 others have been treated for hypothermia and four for broken legs, Vincent Magwenya, spokesperson for President Cyril Ramaphosa, said in a statement. Ramaphosa will visit the affected area Monday.

The mine in the Free State, formerly owned by De Beers Plc, was shut in the 1970s. The disaster adds to the sector woes as South Africa tries to stem illegal mining, theft of equipment and robbers stripping metal from power cables.

The tailings dump is owned by Stargems’s unit Jagersfontein Developments. It acquired the shareholding of the tailing dump from billionaire Johann Rupert’s Reinet Investments in April. Jagersfontein Developments will offer R20 million to assist the community, an external spokesman for the company said in an email.

“A full due diligence was conducted prior to this acquisition showing that the assets, including the dam were safe and secure,” according to the email.

The latest incident resulted in a loss of power in the small town of Jagersfontein, about 100km southwest of Bloemfontein, the provincial capital, and other nearby townships. Floodwaters and mud cut off Eskom’s access to a key electrical substation. The utility said Monday it had restored power to the mine and it was making progress to restore supplies to the town.

De Beers ceased operations at Jagersfontein in 1971 and sold the operation, along with its associated liabilities, in 2010, the company said in an emailed statement.

“We share the concerns of the nation for the residents of the area,” it said. “We stand ready to provide technical assistance and support to the government should it be requested by the Minerals Council South Africa.”

Minerals Council South Africa, a mining industry lobbying group, said the cause of the dam collapse was unknown.