Farmers and residents of Jagersfontein are counting their losses after a flood of water and mud from a tailings dam ripped through the area early yesterday morning. A total of 100 sheep and calves are reported to have been washed away and 1 000 hectares of grazing land completely destroyed.
Disaster struck at around 06:00 on Sunday morning (11 September 2022) in the diamond mining town of Jagersfontein when the wall of an unused mine tailings dam collapsed and sent a flood of muddy water through the small Free State town.
According to Albertus van Schalkwyk, chairperson of the Jagersfontein Agricultural Association, farmers in the path of the floodwaters have suffered a major blow.
“The river that the livestock drink from is polluted with the mud. About 1 000 hectares of land is full of the mud and most of our livestock farmers could not save their animals.”
Van Schalkwyk says that, by the look of things, farmers’ losses are huge and will be a major setback to their farming activities. Panic, he explains, quickly erupted as farmers feared for their livelihoods.
“Those who acted quickly enough were able to put their livestock away, but some were unfortunate. For crop farmers it is devastating as [all of the] grazing land is polluted,” he says.
Van Schalkwyk reckons it will take some time for farmers to rebuild and return stability to the area. Mop-up operations are expected to start only once all farmers in the area have been engaged and more information on the agricultural impact becomes available.
Department doing assessments
Meanwhile, the Free State department of agriculture’s spokesperson, Zimasa Mbewu tells Food For Mzansi that they are still gathering information from farmers and are not yet aware of any farms or farmers who have been affected.
“The mud seems to have swept [through] houses that are nearer to the mine. The existing commonage is on the outskirts of Jagersfontein,” she says.
Jagersfontein forms part of the Kopanong local municipality. The area is known for producing wheat, canola, potatoes, pears ,almonds, and pecan nuts. Primary agricultural products are mainly sent to other areas for processing and then imported back into the area as processed consumer products.
Reports vary on the death toll. According to some sources, one person has been declared dead as a result of the dam’s failure. Others put the death toll at three. A total of 40 people, with injuries such as fractured limbs, are reported to have been taken to hospitals for treatment.
Some of the affected residents have been evacuated to nearby farms and others have been moved to Glen Agricultural College for shelter.
*This is a developing story and will be updated once more information becomes available.
Sign up for Mzansi Today: Your daily take on the news and happenings from the agriculture value chain.