South Africa: Minister Mantashe Concerned About Free State Slime Dams

Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, says he believes that a 2007 judgement essentially declaring that slime dams do not fall under the jurisdiction of the department is creating a risk for disasters such as the one seen in Jagersfontein to occur.

The disaster – which left one person dead, at least 200 people homeless and a trail of infrastructure damage in its wake – occurred when the slime dam from a nearby disused mine burst causing a mudslide.

The affected residents have been temporarily placed at the Sandstone Sleeper Estate in Bloemfontein.

Following a walk through Jagersfontein, Mantashe described the incident as “much bigger than has been estimated” and said he is “very worried” about the Free State which houses slime dams.

“This was a mining activity. The 2007 judgement… actually deprived this company and this mine to have regular mining inspectors visiting it because [the court] said it’s not a mine, the MPRDA [Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act] has no jurisdiction, the DMRE has no jurisdiction and therefore ring-fenced from it.

“My own interpretation is that, that reflects the lack of understanding of mining as a value chain because you can’t fragment mining. We have raised that with the mineral council and we’re hoping that the Mineral Council will take it up with us and approach the judiciary to change that decision because it’s dangerous.

“Particularly for the Free State where there is a big field of old slimes dams in the Free State goldfields. If we continue saying that that is [the Department of] Water Affairs, we are actually building a risk,” Mantashe said.

Speaking to residents during a community meeting on Tuesday, Mantashe reiterated government’s commitment to assisting those who have been affected.

He warned, however, that their lives would not immediately return to normal.

“What has happened here is a huge disaster [and]… as government, we are going to pull everything together to assist as much as possible. We will work hard to restore your lives. However we also ask for your patience because there a quite a lot of you who have been affected so let’s work together,” he said.

Meanwhile, according to the town’s Mayor, Xolani Tseletsele, the mine responsible for the slime dam has offered to commit some R20 million to assisting the community.

“We met with mine management to hear what they would contribute towards rebuilding our community. They made some commitments that we agreed on and we also formulated a committee directly from those affected by the disaster.

“The commitment they made that we didn’t agree with is the R20 million that they said would go towards addressing basic issues such as clothing, food and the like for those affected. What we are waiting for now is for them and government to make an assessment of the homes and infrastructure that has been destroyed. That way, we will be able to determine how much they, as the mine should contribute, towards physically rebuilding our community,” Tseletsele said.

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