home South Africa Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains

Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains

Image: British Library, The Gold Fields

UNESCO: The area in question is contained within what geologists refer to as the Barberton Mountain Land (BML), also known as the Barberton Greenstone Belt or more technically, the Barberton Supergroup geological formation. Its varied geology gives rise to steeply incised mountainous terrain that stretches from the Lochiel Plateau in the south to the Nelspruit-Komatipoort area in the north and straddles the Swaziland border. It includes part of the Komati river catchment in the south west, the de Kaap catchment in the north and Mahlambanyathi and Crocodile Rivers in the northeast. The hills are rocky, with moist grassy uplands and forested valleys. The altitude ranges from 600 to 1800 meters above mean sea level.

The significance of the BML first became known to the world when alluvial gold was found at Kaapsehoop in 1875. This was followed by the Moodies and Barber’s reef discoveries and a subsequent ‘gold rush’ into the hills above the Suid Kaap river. Barberton’s gold rush was quickly spent, soon to be dwarfed by finds on the Witwatersrand in 1886. South Africa’s mineral wealth, at that time mainly from diamonds and gold, grew enormously. A direct by-product of this affluence was the development of geological science to support mining. In the first half of the 20th Century technical expertise and geological exploration expanded rapidly, supported by equivalent growth in academic research and teaching staff.

In 2009, a submission was made for the region’s classification as a World Heritage Site.

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