Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Gold In Them Hills

A peek into Bulembu's golden past

Gold Mine, Komati River, 1888. A major mine with a seam and a prospect shaft on the left - the windlass uses rare and expensive imported timber - the seam is supported by indigenous timber. Site unknown - probably within Malolotja Nature Reserve.
Source: Swaziland Digital Archives

Newsflash: Bulembu used to be a mining town. Now I know what you're thinking...You're thinking you already know that Bulembu used to be a massive asbestos mine.

But did you know that in the late 1800's used to be home to one of the most promising gold mines in the country?

The Swazi King used to give out concessions to people which allowed them to do things like mine or graze cattle. Concession No.1 was the Havelock Concession which stretched from Bulembu to Piggs Peak and allowed the gold which was found within the hills to be mined starting in 1883.

One such mine existed right near where the current Swaziland/South African boarder post is. The mine included a cable way which stretched from the gold mine to the river to process the oar.

This particular mine was in use until the Boer War in 1899 and was officially shut down in 1902 when the British won the war. It was never reopened because it was a marginal mine - never producing the El Dorado payload people had hoped for.

While the mine in Bulembu shut down, gold mining continued on in the area carried until the 1940's and open shafts can still be found in the hills between Bulembu and Piggs Peak.

Today Swaziland historian Bob Forrester is busying himself organizing archived photos and remnants of the mining era to create a comprehensive history of Bulembu's mining past for the new Bulembu Museum. The museum is slated to be opened in early 2010.

  Gold was discovered in Bulembu in the 1880s and a mine was started quite near to the current Bulembu border post. The ore was processed in a mill powered by water which was brought in by long canals. The canal can be seen on top of the scaffolding, the water powered a wheel which then crushed the ore.
Source: Swaziland Digital Archives

The gold bearing reefs at Havelock (Bulembu) and Piggs Peak were on the tops of mountains. At Piggs Peak the mine was large enough to justify a railway, but at Havelock they built a cableway in the extremely mountainous terrain. The battery was close to the end of the cableway and near water that powered the pistons of the battery that crushed the ore to extract the gold from the mined rock.
Source: Swaziland Digital Archives

Piggs Peak Gold Mine, 1887.
Source: Swaziland Digital Archives

For more photos and stories from the Swaziland National Trust and the Swaziland Digital Archives visit or the Bulembu Museum (slated to be up and running in early 2010).

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