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Jagersfontein dam catastrophe highlights transparency, ESG…


In January 2019, a dam holding mine waste in Brazil collapsed right into a raging torrent of 9 million cubic metres of tailings, killing 270 folks within the city of Brumadinho. The dam was a part of the operation of the Córrego do Feijão iron ore mine owned by Brazilian mining large, Vale.

That catastrophe was a large wake-up name to an trade that had for many years been underneath stress to scrub up its environmental and security act. One in every of many initiatives to emerge was a World Customary of Tailings Administration (the Customary) developed by the Worldwide Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), the United Nations Atmosphere Programme and the UN-linked Rules for Accountable Funding.

“The Customary has made tailings dams a spotlight for your entire international trade, somewhat than just some corporations. This has put accountable administration of tailings on the agenda of executives and boards in a means that not often occurred earlier than. That is having an influence,” ICMM CEO Rohitesh Dhawan and COO Aidan Davy not too long ago stated on the group’s web site.

As of January 2022, 79 corporations (together with ICMM’s 26 members) have dedicated to implementing the Customary.

“Though the Customary is voluntary, there are penalties for ignoring it. For instance, the Church of England Pension Board, managing about £4-billion in property, has stated it’s going to vote in opposition to the Chairs of corporations that haven’t dedicated to implement the Customary.”

The CoE Pension Board additionally helped nudge Anglo American to shed its South African coal property.

All of that is tapping into the present company zeitgeist with its give attention to ESGs — environmental, social and governance points. 

The upshot is that the development and upkeep of tailings dams — which retailer the byproducts of mining operations — are being intently monitored, and any firm that has a catastrophe on its fingers can pay a steep value. Vale has paid $7-billion in compensation to the communities affected by the 2019 incident in Brazil and its authorized woes aren’t over. 

Jagersfontein Developments

This brings us to the Jagersfontein diamond mine and its tailings dam, which killed at the least one individual and displaced scores of others when its wall burst. 

A couple of issues stand out. For one, the corporate is unlisted and doesn’t belong to a wider skilled affiliation such because the ICMM or the Minerals Council South Africa. Such memberships aren’t fast badges of transparency, however signing as much as membership compacts and the like — even when they don’t seem to be zealously enforced or vaguely worded — confers a degree of credibility to an organization.

Nearly all the businesses which have signed as much as the Customary will belong to such associations or might be publicly listed. Jagersfontein Developments is neither, and its possession construction is opaque, with useful possession apparently someplace in Dubai. This correspondent couldn’t even discover a web site for it. It’s a former Anglo asset.

“If listed corporations are dangerous, then unlisted corporations like Jagersfontein Developments are a lot worse. They aren’t members of the Minerals Council or listed on a inventory change. Unlisted mining corporations needn’t disclose something in any respect on an ongoing or constant interval to interval foundation,” Paul Miller, director of consultancy AmaranthCX, informed Enterprise Mavericokay.

‘Data black holes’

Miller stated that “each authorities and enterprise in SA are info and disclosure black holes. The Minerals Council doesn’t implement its personal a lot vaunted Membership Compact which has, as Guiding Precept 10, that members should ‘implement efficient and clear engagement, communication and independently verified reporting preparations with their stakeholders’. 

“Mining corporations in a short time name within the legal professionals to defend their info and usually present the least attainable quantity of knowledge to the general public,” stated Miller.

“Listed corporations produce meaningless a number of hundred-page books of knowledge, typeset, wordsmithed and designed in London and New York, however local people members don’t get something helpful on the native degree. Every mine must have full and ongoing disclosure of their licences, environmental reporting and efficiency and social and labour plans on a mine-by-mine foundation… in a digital world, this isn’t too onerous to anticipate.”

Aid fund

The Minerals Council, to its credit score, has launched a Jagersfontein Aid Fund for these affected by the catastrophe. 

“Whereas the house owners of the Jagersfontein property aren’t Minerals Council members, the Council despatched a senior technical crew to the positioning on Monday to evaluate the harm and set up what the trade may do to help households and the affected communities,” the council stated in an announcement on Wednesday. 

“Council president, Ms Nolitha Fakude, visited the positioning on Tuesday with [Mineral Resources] Minister Mantashe to achieve first-hand perception into the tragedy and to information the Minerals Council’s aid efforts.”


Go to Daily Maverick’s home page for extra information, evaluation and investigations


In the meantime, the blame recreation is in full swing.

Mantashe says a excessive courtroom judgment from 2009 that left the Division of Mineral Sources and Vitality with out jurisdiction over all tailings dams — together with the one in Jagersfontein — was a harmful mistake. 

Learn extra in Day by day Maverick: “Mantashe says ‘dangerous’ high court judgment crippled his department’s jurisdiction over all tailings dams

However the DMRE has its personal governance and capability points. Over the previous few years, it has screwed up the whole lot in its portfolio, leading to large bottlenecks for allowing and permitting poisonous legacies to stay unaddressed. Its ongoing failure to rehabilitate derelict and ownerless mines is a large well being and security menace to mine communities. 

Learn extra in Day by day Maverick: “DMRE’s failure to rehabilitate abandoned mines poses health risks to communities

There have been pink lights flashing at Jagersfontein earlier than. Reuters reported that the tailings dam was shut down in 2020 because of high water levels, but then allowed to reopen in 2021

Investigators will hopefully resolve the technical causes behind the disaster. Maybe extreme rains linked to La Niña have been an element. 

In the meantime, the worldwide trade is cleansing up its act relating to tailings dams, and the hope is that such occasions will stay uncommon. DM/BM

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