On the first day of an oversight visit to the site of the Jagersfontein mine dam disaster in the Free State, the Select Committee on Land Reform, Environment, Mineral Resources and Energy expressed its concern about the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy’s response to a court judgement relating to who is responsible for maintaining mining-related land and property. A dam at the site of a former mine burst recently, with tragic consequences for the people living in the area.

The select committee made these comments during a joint committee meeting with the Select Committee on Land Reform, Environment, Mineral Resources and Energy and the Free State Legislature.

In her opening remarks, the committee Chairperson, Ms Tebogo Modise, said: “We are here to get answers. We are here because of the tragedy. Lives were lost and people are traumatised. We are here to get information on what happened and the role government is playing in assisting the affected community.”

During the oversight visit, the Select Committee on Land Reform, Environment, Mineral Resources and Energy also met with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. The DMRE said that according to their records, De Beers was the last mining company to have control over the area. The Regional Manager of Mineral Regulation Ms Kalipa Kewuti explained that there is currently a company onsite working on the surface of the area processing waste material from mining operations in the 1970s.

The DMRE said a company called Ataqua Mining applied for prospecting rights to work the diamond tailing/surface dumps in the same area where De Beers now has a lapsed right. The DMRE accepted Ataqua’s application, but De Beers took the department to court to set aside the prospecting right on the grounds that the tailings/surface dumps in question were created by De Beers during the course of mining over the years and that De Beers is the owner of any minerals found in the tailings/surface dumps in question.

The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) 2002 does not apply to tailings/surface dumps and the dumps in question are not subject to control by the MPRDA, which made the state the custodian of all minerals in South Africa.

DMRE informed the committee that as a result of the court judgement, the department would only be able to regulate mine dumps if the current legislation is amended. Currently, mine dumps are the private property of the mining company that created them.

A committee member, Mr Jomo Nyambi, queried why the DMRE never challenged the court ruling, as the matter relates directly to mining. Now, 15 years later, this disaster requires government intervention but who is responsible for the mine dump is unclear.

Yoliswa Landu
21 September 2022