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TSUMEB MINE NAMIBIA HISTORY. The first written report of copper being seen in the Tsumeb area was made In 1857 when the Rhenish Missionaries H. Hahn and J. Rath in the company of the hunter-trader

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Tsumeb Mine A History Of Copper Mining in Namibia (part 2)

Imperial German Ensign By Authority of the German Reich:

August 1895 saw the German Governor Major Theodore Leutwein lead a force of 70 Schutztruppe accompanied by Samuel Maharero and 50 Herero mounted troops to Grootfontein where they met with the Dr. G Hartmann the senior representative of the South West Africa Company and agreed upon the boundaries within which the SWA Company could operate. The scene was at long last set for some serious play. 

The signing of the Boudary Agreement

The signing of the Boundary Agreement


The South West Africa Company Reports:

At the company's Annual General Meeting which was held in September 1895 the board were able to report: "Amongst other operations, considerable prospecting work has been done on the outcrop of copper ore at Soomep, about 20 miles from Otavi, to which reference was made in the last report. A lode, the full extent of which is not yet explored, has been discovered, and large samples taken there from have assayed as follows:

Copper, 9,80 percent

Lead,  42,75 percent

Silver, 5oz. 11dwts. 0grs. per ton of 20cwt of ore

Gold,  traces.

Suitable railway communications is essential in order to turn to account the Company's mineral rights and landed property. The construction of a line from the coast to the interior, is, indeed, of vital importance not only to this Company but to the Protectorate generally, for the purpose both of the German Government and all of the parties interested in the development of the country. This fact is becoming more and more recognized and the Directors are confident that it is merely a question of time when a line from the coast to the interior, say in the first place Okahandja, will be constructed. Such a line would be convenient for extensions and branch lines North, East and South."


1896 saw the South West Africa Company acquiring other interests within the German Protectorate. They took a major shareholding in the Hanseatic Land Mining and Trading Company, and the Kaoko-Land and Mining Company.


1897 saw the German government grant a large concession area to the company that included the Grootfontein Otavi Tsumeb block, an area over 1,000 square miles, but 1897 was a year when prospecting operations were severely hampered owing to the outbreak of the Rinderpest, a cattle disease, throughout Southern Africa, that dealt a crippling blow to the transport methods of the day.


In October 1898 the Company finally obtained an extension of land and mining rights into Ovamboland. At long last the field was set for some serious play.


The initial exploration costs had been considerable and had consumed virtually all of the Company's existing capital. The board was now seeking finances to exploit the rich ore deposit, and as the venture lay within the German Protectorate it decided that a new company should be formed with the support of the German banks.


 The Otavi-Minen-und-Eisenbahngesellschaft  (O.M.E.G.)

On 6 April 1906 the Otavi Minen-und-Eisenbahngesellschaft was founded in London with an authorized capital of 2 million British Pounds (40 million Marks) divided into 400,000 Ordinary shares of M.100 each and 400,000 Founder's shares of no face value. The South West Africa Company was allocated 200,000 Founders shares that would receive 25% of the surplus profits of the O.M.E.G, after provision for reserve fund. Directors remuneration and the payment of a dividend of 5% on the Ordinary share capital. The contract was made with the Disconto-Gesellschaft, of Berlin, and the Exploration Company, of London. The Mineral rights over an area of 1,000 square miles would be transferred to the new company, and also the option to take surface rights over one half of the same area and certain other rights necessary for the construction of a railway.

The new company quickly sent a team of thirty-three miners under the supervision of Chief Engineer Christopher James to investigate the viability of the concession area.


There was no fresh water at the Tsumeb Mine site and the nearest supply point was at Lake Otjikoto about 18km distance from where drinking water was shipped in daily. Two exploratory shafts were sunk 75 metres apart and James soon reported on the hardness of the ground at certain levels. James and his team over-came the obstacles and doing it spent about 50,000 British Pounds, a considerable sum in those days, proving the deposits at Tsumeb.


The first shipment of ore was sent by ox-wagon to Swakopmund on 28 December 1900. It weighed a total of 9 tons and  comprised of 101 bags of ore of which 21 contained chalcocite, 20 of galena, 20 of mixed copper and lead ore, and 40 bags of test samples.


A further survey team under the direction of T. Toenneson investigated the most suitable route to lay a narrow gauge rail track. They initially gave consideration to the building of a rail line from Tsumeb to Tiger Bay in the South of Angola, but eventually decided that the project should be located within the German protectorate with Swakopmund as the export harbour.



The Green Hill so far far away

The Green Hill 1906

Early copper mine workings Otavi Tsumeb District

Early Mining Methods

OMEG Train

OMEG Train

Tsumeb Mine Area 1908

 Mine Area 1908



The Rail Line: In 1903 the O.M.E.G. awarded the contract to construct a private railway line that was to run from Swakopmund to Tsumeb to the firm of Arthur Koppel AG of Berlin. They elected to operate independently from the state Rail Company, and they also chose to make use of a 60-cm narrow gauge track. The construction of the rail line was fraught with problems. The Herero uprising of 1904 brought with it a defection of the native labour force, so the Germans shipped in Italians to work as labourers but the conditions overcame them and many paid for their own tickets 'back home.'  The Germans then put Herero prisoners of war to work on the line which was eventually was completed on 24 August 1906. It was the longest narrow-gauge (60cm) railway track in the world.


1906-1940 Production Under O.M.E.G. From the beginning of the operation not all of the ore mined was of a high enough grade to be profitable to export in that form.

A smelter plant was needed and early in 1907 the erection of two copper-lead blast furnaces began; which were commissioned in September. The first fiscal year of the OMEG was April 1907 to March 1908 and saw 25,700 tons of ore being exported to Europe, returning a profit of over 1 million Marks.

WW1 caused a down turn in activities at Tsumeb and from 14 July 1914 until some time in 1921 the smelter was out of commission. The 1920s saw a flourish of mining activity with deeper levels being exploited. The mine's output peaked in 1930, but the Great Depression caused metal prices to collapse to 53 British Pounds per ton for copper and 16 G.B.P. per ton for lead, so that no dividend could be paid that year. On 1 August 1932 the O.M.E.G. ceased its mining operations. By 1937 the copper price was fluctuating between G.B.P. 44 to G.B.P. 70. The mine needed to be de-watered and produced 46,500 short tons that year. Production levels increased until about one year after the outbreak of WW2, when on 25 September 1940 the mining at Tsumeb was abandoned and the assets of the OMEG, being a German interest, were placed under the control of the Custodian of Enemy Property


Just for the Record: Between the years 1906 and 1940 under the O.M.E.G. the Tsumeb mine produced 2,550,000 short tons of ore containing 210,000 tons Copper, 451,230 tons lead and 215,470 tons zinc. 1,023,000 tons of this was  comprised of high-grade sorted ore for direct export, the remainder being processed through the Tsumeb concentrator and smelter and yielding 140,300 tons of copper-lead matte and 48,500 tons of lead bullion. The total sales of export ore, copper matte and lead bullion was 226,347,225 Marks or about 12 million British Pounds.


 1946 - 1998 - Production under Tsumeb Corporation Ltd. ( T.C.L.)

(Later - Goldfields Namibia Ltd.)

 who placed the mine up for sale. A syndicate was formed that included Newmont Mining Corp., American Metal Co., Selection Trust, British South Africa Co., Union Corp., South West Africa Co., and the Okeip Copper Co.. The sale was competed in 1947 for just over 1 Million British Pounds. The syndicate was named Tsumeb Corporation Ltd. The post war investment into the mining operations of T.C.L. were considerable and the town of Tsumeb enjoyed a boom that would last for many years. In 1984 the South African mining giant Goldfields purchased Tsumeb Corporation Ltd. and issued shares on the newly formed Namibia Stock Exchange.


1998 - The Demise of Tsumeb Corporation Limited ( Goldfields Namibia Ltd.)

The 1990s were poor years for copper with prices experiencing all-time lows that caused many base metal mines throughout the world to close. T.C.L.s Management

team was one of the most experienced in the industry and sought every which way to reduce operational costs as they watched copper prices plummet to under U$1,400 per ton. Sadly their efforts were thwarted when during August 1996 the mine workers union declared an illegal-wild-cat strike on the T.C.L. mines. The picketers resorted to criminal violence and prevented the Essential Services Staff from entering the mine areas and attending to their duties, some of whom were attacked and maimed with machetes and or clubs. One of Essential Services that was prevented was the ongoing dewatering of the mine. In a few short days the famous De Wet Shaft had flooded. T.C.L. (Goldfields Namibia Ltd.) eventually were forced into insolvency. The damage to the Namibian economy was considerable as many of the companies that had been suppliers to the TCL mining group were also forced into closing their doors. The TCL liquidators where unsuccessful in attracting buyers from the established world wide and Southern African mining houses and the politics of the day saw a newly formed Namibian 'Black Empowerment' company named Ongopolo Mining and Processing Ltd. obtaining the necessary finances supported by Government guarantees with which they were able to purchase the Goldfields Namibia Ltd. assets for a nominal fee.


The years that followed witnessed the ongoing sales of the 'old TCLs' assets and equipment, and by April 2006, at a time when copper was enjoying an all time high price of US$7,147 per ton, the Ongopolo Mining & Processing Company found itself facing bankruptcy. The company was unable to repay its substantial bank loans, that enjoyed guarantees by the Namibian Government. The audited statements of June 2005 showed liabilities in excess of  N$520 million. In April of 2006 Ongopolo Mining and Processing managed to sign an agreement to sell the majority shareholding to the London listed company Weatherly International Plc.


A local union leader was heard to make the comment that they "the Union" had had to 'swallow their pride'.


In December 2008 with Copper having fallen to below US$4,000 per ton, Weatherly MIning suspended mining activities.


Just for the Record: Between the years of 1905 to 1990 24,6 million tonnes of ore where mined from the De Wet Shaft that produced 1,7 million tonnes of copper, 2,8 million tonnes of lead and 0,9 million tonnes of zinc.  The Tsumeb Ore Body was a subject of fascination with the geological, metallurgical and mining community owing to the diversity of minerals that it contained. A total of 226 minerals of which 40 were unique to the Tsumeb Mine. Minerals as diverse as antimony, arsenic, silver, cadmium, cobalt, copper, gallium, germanium, gold, iron, lead, mercury, nickel, tin, molybdenum, vanadium and zinc were found. The collectors of gem-stones were also catered for as dioptase, malachite and tourmaline were also discovered in the mid thirties levels of the mine.


Orange Attention Tsumeb Mine A History Part 1


Acknowledgements and further reading: G1, G2, H9, H20, H21, P2,

Grootfontein Area Attractions

Baobab Tree

Hoba Meteorite

 Lake Otjikoto



Gaub Cave

Khorab Memorial




Of Interest: The indigenous people noted that the scum around the edges of the waterholes at 'Tsumeb' were streaked with bright greens, brown and grey. These were chemical deposits that had leeched out from the copper and lead ore.

The Otjihereros called the place 'Otjimuse' meaning, 'the place of frogs'.

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