Ngwenya Mine

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Ngwenya Mine

The Ngwenya Mine is located on Bomvu Ridge, northwest of Mbabane and near the north-western border of Swaziland. This mine is considered to be the world's oldest. The haematite ore deposit was used in the Middle Stone Age to extract red ochre, while in later times the deposit was mined for iron smelting and iron ore export.

Historic mining[edit]

Several stone age artefacts have been found in the mine during archaeological works in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Their age was established with radiocarbon dating as older than 20,000 years. Later, radiocarbon dating yielded the age of the oldest mining activities as 41,000 to 43,000 years.[1] This would make Ngwenya the oldest known mine.[2][3] The site was known to Early Man for its deposits of red and specular haematite, used in cosmetics and rituals.[4]

Red ochre from here was extracted by the ancestors of the San and used in rock paintings, which are common in Swaziland. By about 400 AD, pastoralist Bantu tribes had arrived from the north. They were familiar with the smelting of iron ore, and traded their iron widely throughout the African continent.

Modern mining[edit]

The haematite iron ore with the iron content of up to 60% was prospected in the middle of the 19th century.[5] The Swaziland Iron Ore Development Company (SIODC), owned by the Anglo-American Corporation, started mining of the deposit in 1964.[5] A ten-year contract with a Japanese company made it the largest consumer of the iron ore. The open pit mining took place between 1964 and 1977, temporarily boosting the economic development of the area by establishing a railway line connecting the mine with the Mozambique Railway System, and an electricity supply network.[2] An estimated 20,000,000 tonnes of iron ore have been extracted from the mine.[6]


  1. ^ Coakley, George J. "The Mineral Industry of Swaziland" (PDF). United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2010-01-22. 
  2. ^ a b "Ngwenya Mines". UNESCO. 2008-12-31. 
  3. ^ Matsebula, J. S. M. (1988). A history of Swaziland. Longman. ISBN 978-0-582-03167-8. 
  4. ^ Dart, R. A.; Beaumont, P. (1969). "Evidence of Iron Ore Mining in Southern Africa in the Middle Stone Age". Current Anthropology. 10 (1): 127–128. JSTOR 2740688. doi:10.1086/201014. 
  5. ^ a b Waïtzenegger, Jacques A.; Collings, Francis d'A.; Carstens, Reimer O. (1970). "The Economy of Swaziland (L'économie du Swaziland) (La economía de Swazilandia)". Staff Papers - International Monetary Fund. 17 (2): 390–452. JSTOR 3866292. 
  6. ^ Baird, Bill (2004). "Ancient mining in Swaziland". The Edinburgh Geologist. 42. 

Coordinates: 26°11′52″S 31°01′53″E / 26.19778°S 31.03139°E / -26.19778; 31.03139