Tin mining in the Valley of Heaven

Crush, Jonathan
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Immediately to the south of the Swaziland capital of Mbabane lie the Malegwane Hill and, at its feet, the Ezulwini Valley, geographical heartland of the powerful nineteenth century Swazi state under the military kings Sobhuza I and Mswati (Bonner, 1983) . The sacred places of Swazi lore and the royal villages of successive Swazi kings and queens dot the valley and the flanking granite outcrops of the Mdimba Hills to the east. It was to one of these villages, Embekelweni, that two Scots mining prospectors came in 1874 and acquired the first of over fifty mineral concessions eventually granted by the Swazi king Mbandeni. The concessions covered the entire country but only a handful were ever profitably worked. Several of these were in the Ezulwini Valley itself. Today the Valley is cluttered with the debris of a century of capitalist penetration; canneries, casinos, campgrounds, cotton fields and much more besides jostle one another for space on the increasingly crowded valley floor. Possibly the most unsightly landscape markers of all are the bright red slashes of gully erosion which punctuate the base of the Lupohlo and Mantenga Hills on the west side of the valley. These scars stand as silent testimony to an all but forgotten phase in the life of the area and to a vibrant history of struggle on the valley floor. Here (and in several localities around the town of Mbabane itself) cassiterite tin was regularly mined between 1894 and 1948. This paper is part of a larger effort to recover the shrouded history of the Swaziland mining industry locked up in relict landscapes, archival records and the memories of Swazi workers and peasants. The bigger project will encompass the better-known, though equally unresearched, mining of asbestos at Havelock and iron ore at Ngwenya (which like the tin industry before it, is now defunct). To date my attention has focussed on documentary sources for the period before 1920 and the light which their study can bring to the veiled history of tin mining in the Valley of Heaven.
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented March, 1987
Tin mines and mining. Swaziland, Tin mines and mining. Africa