We do know from Ghanaian historian of repute, Prof. Albert Adu Boahen that the balance of power of indigenous African empires of Ghana, Songhai and Mali partly relied on the control of gold producing towns or at least control of the trade routes.
Therefore news that Black Africans had begun mining minerals from the earth’s belly 43,000 years ago is not surprising.
Libertywritersafrica.com reports that deposits of minerals at Ngwenya Mine, located on the northwestern border of Swaziland in southern Africa, suggest mining commenced at least 42,000 years ago with focus on red haematite and specularite (sparkling ores). The mine is considered to be the world’s oldest.
By the date, it places the period in the Middle Stone Age and with the San people also called (bushman) of Swaziland known for their paintings using the red ochre as being descendants of people or related ethnic groups who made this discovery.
Credence is further given this theory with the Swazi names of the pigments “libovu” (red ochre) and “ludumane” (sparkling ochre) showing their ancestors were not ignorant of the mineral exploitations in earlier times. It’s believed African civilizations forged and spread in southern Africa for almost 100,000 years.
Bantu-speaking people are said to have arrived from north of the Limpopo River around 400AD and with a good number of them being agro-pastoralists, also smelted iron ore. With the extracted ore, done with heaving iron hammers, they traded the iron widely across the region. The Bantu span several hundred indigenous ethnic groups in sub-Saharan Africa, from Central Africa across the African Great Lakes to Southern Africa.
The Ngwenya Mine also has the distinction of having in its bosom, rare-earth also known as specularite, used in cosmetics across the region. “The site also shows evidence of three mining activities which is the Lion Carven mine for specularite and red ochre, Castle carven for 400AD iron ore mining and two open casts for the 1964-1977 modern iron ore mining.”
“It also shows that, long before Europeans came with modern mining tools, Black Africans have also perfected the art and science of mining. Finally, while earlier mines used such modern tools as shovels, the mines at Ngwenya made wide use of choppers, hammers, and picks made from dolerite.”
When charcoal lumps, and molds from the Ngwenya Mine site were sent for radiocarbon dating in 1940, it was at that point that the 43,000BC date was arrived at making it one of the oldest mines on the planet.
Early rock paintings examined showed allusions to mining. While the mine is of historical importance to the Swazi people, it also showed early industrial development for the Southern African region from stone to iron over time.
In the modern era, an open cast mine was open in 1964, where iron ore is mined. It signaled and served as a catalyst for the industrial and economic development of Swaziland.