Ngwenya Mine

Useful Information

Location: Ngwenya, Eswatini.
(-26.195130, 31.031990)
Open: All year daily 8-16.
Classification: MineIron Mine ExplainOldest Mines specularite
Light: n/a
Guided tours:  
Address: Ngwenya Mine & Lion Cavern, Ngwenya, Eswatini, Tel: +268-24-443-241, Cell: +268-76-606-755. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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43,000 BP first mining for hematite by the ancestors of the San.
450 Bantu speaking settlers mine hematite to make iron weapons and tools.
1964 beginning of commercial mining.
1977 end of mining.
2005 visitor center built.
31-DEC-2008 submitted to the UNESCO tentative list.
2018 visitor center burned down.



Ngwenya Mine is the oldest mine in the world, the ancestors of the San mined hematite here about 43,000 years ago. Over the millennia there was mining by nomadic hunter-gatherers now and then. When Bantu speaking settlers arrived here in South Africa around 459, they started to mine hematite to make iron weapons and tools.

Ngwenya means crocodile, which describes the shape of Eswatini’s second-highest mountain, which is looming above the mine. The mine is located on its southern flank.

There are several phases of mining, and also several resources which were mined. The site is especially interesting for its hematite, and actually this was mined from the beginning. However, 43,000 years ago people did not know how to smelter the iron ore and produce iron, they mined it because if it is grounded it becomes an intensive red pigment. That's the reason why hematite is also known as blood stone. The red colour was used for cave paintings and for body paint. Another mineral which was mined early on is specularite, a green phospate mineral which was grounded to create a green body paint with a glittering sheen. It was traditionally worn by chiefs for ceremonial occasions.

The mine is today a huge open cast, or actually two connected open casts, which were created by modern iron ore mining between 1964 and 1977. The visit starts at the Visitor Center which has an exhibition about the mine, including minerals, photographs, and a life-size diorama of an iron-age smelter at work. The biggest exhibit is a British-built steam engine that was shipped to Swaziland in 1913 and later used in the mine. The visitor centre was opened in 2005 but burned down in late 2018 and has yet to be re-built.

The ancient mine is an archaeological site, a small cavern located on the western side of the northern open cast. It is named Lion Cavern, although it is not a cave. It may be visited on a guided tour.