Cleaning up an ‘ecological tragedy’: Jagersfontein Developments did not have a dam safety licence

Joe Pretorius and his family would often go down to the Proses Spruit, take their canoes out on its clear depths, and have a swim.

The water “was so clean you could drink it”, said Pretorius, who runs a game farm downstream from the diamond-mining town of Jagersfontein in the Free State. 

Now, it’s the scene of an “ecological tragedy”. On 11 September, a tailings dam collapsed at Jagersfontein, causing large volumes of slime to engulf and destroy the homes and properties of more than 300 residents, and killing at least one person. The deluge, too, smothered water systems like the Proses Spruit. 

“The river is unusable now,” Pretorius said. “It’s just this white-grey desolate area. This was an unspoilt, pristine river environment that is now under mine sludge.” 

Drone footage Pretorius took revealed how the Proses Spruit bore the “full brunt” of the tailings dam collapse. “There’s just kilometres and kilometres of this white-grey mud lying in this river system. It’s an ecological horror show. The really bad thing about it is that this was a pristine river environment. You would walk down there and hear and see fish eagles, every kind of water bird, otters, all sorts of little crabs, frogs and insects — that’s all gone.

“The problem is that you’re sitting with this thick mud that covers everything. Once it’s baked, there’s no oxygen or sunlight that can get through. I suppose in time with a couple of seasons of good rainfall, some of it will be washed away and, as it dries, some of it will be blown away, but I don’t know how we’re ever going to fix it.”

Affected rivers

Sputnik Ratau, spokesperson for the department of water and sanitation, said the rivers affected by the spill include the Riet River that flows into the Kalkfontein Dam, the Proses Spruit, which supplies the Wolwas Dam and the Krommellenboogspruit, which is a tributary of the Riet River. The Kalkfontein Dam is the water-supply source for several towns in the area. It is also used for agriculture.

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The post Cleaning up an ‘ecological tragedy’: Jagersfontein Developments did not have a dam safety licence appeared first on The Mail & Guardian.

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