A mine wall at the former De Beers diamond mine in South Africa’s Free State Province collapsed over the weekend, killing at least three people and injuring another 40. Nine houses were swept away in a flash flood, according to the Bloomberg news service.
The government said in a statement that search and rescue efforts are continuing at the abandoned mine, a unit of Anglo American.
“The tailings of the abandoned local mine burst open leading to damages to infrastructure, personal property and homes. The untold damages in and around the community of Charlesville in Jagersfontein are extensive and have negatively impacted the community. Some people are displaced, others lost property, while others are reported injured and missing,” said a government spokesperson.
A statement released by the Minerals Council South Africa expressed shock at the collapse of the historic Jagerstontein tailings. The Council is a mining industry employers’ organization that supports and promotes the South African mining industry.
DeBeers operates in 35 countries and mining takes place in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Canada and Australia. Owned by the Oppenheimer family since the 1920s, DeBeers was bought by Anglo American in 2011 for $5.1 billion, thus ending the South African family’s long reign over the often controversial diamond empire.
De Beers was founded by Cecil Rhodes, the British colonialist.
Mr. Oppenheimer, a legendary 20th century business tycoon, oversaw the “Diamonds Are Forever” marketing slogan and tightened De Beers’s grip on global diamond supply. At one point, it mined 80% of the world’s diamonds, setting prices almost at will.
The mine’s dumps and slime still “belong” to De Beers and the government’s access has been restricted by a court order, Nathi Shabangu, a spokesman of the Dept. of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) said via SMS. “We also have reports that the mine has been sold to other parties, without the involvement of the DMRE as per the court order.”
The disaster occurred in Jagersfontein at around 6 a.m., the government said, forcing officials to evacuate scores of residents to nearby farms.
Among the injured was a pregnant woman and four individuals with fractured limbs, who have been taken to hospitals for treatment.
“Compensation for fatalities, compensation in terms of damage to property will be taken as a responsibility of the company that owns the slimes dam,” he said.
Mine unions and many other commentators say South Africa, the world’s top source of platinum and a major gold producer, has an appalling mine safety record. So far this year about 146 have died in various incidents. The mine was shut in the 1970s, according to media reports.