Located on Bomvu Ridge near the north-western border of Swaziland you can find the Ngwenya Mine. What makes this mine so unique is that it is known as the world’s oldest mine. The haematite ore deposit was used in the Middle Stone Age to extract red ochre, while in modern times the deposit was mined for iron smelting and iron ore export.
During archaeological works in the Ngwenya Mine during the late 1960s and early 1970s, numerous Stone Age artefacts have been discovered. Their age was established with radiocarbon dating as older than 20.000. Later, radiocarbon dating yielded the age of the oldest mining activities as 41,000 to 43,000 years.
The site was known to early man for its deposits of red and specular haematite, used in cosmetics and rituals. Red ochre from here was extracted by the ancestors of the San and used in rock paintings. Rock paintings are widely used 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 subcontinent.
The Swaziland Iron Ore Development Company (SIODC), owned by Anglo-American, began mining deposits in 1964. 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. A projected 20,000,000 tonnes of iron ore have been extracted from the mine.