Following the discovery of gold in the Transvaal, prospectors swarmed all over the sub-continent of Africa, fossicking and digging and squabbling over access to likely ground.
In 1874 two Scots acquired the first mining concessions in Swaziland, then a region ruled by Mbandzeni with an unsophisticated people still embracing Iron Age technology.
There was no regard for the environment or the interests of the people who were easily corrupted by modern trade goods, particularly alcohol.
By 1890 so many concessions had been granted for so many purposes that practically the whole country was covered two, three, or even four deep in concessions of all kinds and for different periods.
White settlers flooded the country and Swazis quickly took up favours offered without concern for regulation or control. Settlers pillaged the country, despoiling the land and rivers, consuming the game animals and generally corrupting the Swazi, under the guise of civilization.
The tin miners were the worst. Mbabane was initially a tin mining village before it became the capital in 1902. Tin mining was very simple, they washed away the hillside to expose the nuggets of tin that lay above the bedrock. This meant that miners needed long canals to get enough water pressure to hose away the hill.
It took until the 1950’s to stop their depradations. This accounts for a large amount of deep erosion gullies as seen at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
The soil that was washed away tended to accumulate and create swamps or wetlands, polluting the rivers and streams with silt, killing cattle.
I remember the dams and claybelts all around Mbabane. Playing in the dams was strictly forbidden as a few years before a child had drowned in Lake Adelaide. I recall my Dad telling of having to dive in to retrieve the body, which was tangled in reeds on the dam floor.
However our gang of young boys found an old raft of petrol drums with a deck of wattle sticks on a small dam which we couldn’t resist, and had an inspired pirate game. Unfortunately one of the gang lost his pellet gun overboard there – we were too scared to dive for it. I wasn’t too sorry as he had shot me in the leg once, possibly by mistake…
Below Mbabane Club there were a number of claybanks which saw many a clay fight. Fortunately we could wash some of the red clay off in the river afterwards.
We later moved to Havelock Mine nestled in the East Drakensberg Mountains in the north of Swaziland. As boys we roved the hills and mountains and found prospectors’ trenches and implements all over the area.
Tin, gold, asbestos, iron ore, coal, diamonds lured many who came to love the land and its people. But they have run out now, so the burgeoning population has to rely on other ways of selling their resources.
Overpopulation and a lack of planning and control of development is turning many areas into semi-desert. So sad.
Photos courtesy of Swaziland Digital Archives