The Namaqualand Copper Mining Landscape

Date of Submission: 08/07/2009
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Dept. of Sport, Arts & Culture, Northem Cape Provincial Administration
State, Province or Region:
Nortbem Cape Province
Ref.: 5460
Word File

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Okiep: S29 35 55.80 E17 52 48.01

Concordia: S29 30 57.95 E17 55 27.41

Nababiep: S29 34 45.98 E17 47 17.15

Port. Nolloth: S29 15 19.14 E16 52 11.62

Carolusberg: S29 38 47.69 E17 56 49.01

Springbok: S29 39 49.03 E17 52 45.87

The Namaqualand Copper Mining Landscape is the site of the first sustained modern mining operation in Southern Africa; the place where the South African mining industry had it origins and which the transfer of technology and the systems according to which mines and the societies they create were transferred from the south-west of England to South Africa.

The copper deposits of Namaqualand have long been used by the indigenous Nama people of the region and not long after their arrival at the Cape, the Dutch established that copper was available in some abundance to the north of their colony. In 1685 an expedition sampled copper ore nearby the present day village of Carolusberg, but considering the fairly low grade of the samples, the remoteness and dryness of the area and that Namaqualand has no obvious natural harbours, establishing a mining operation was not considered feasible. It was hence only in the early 19th century, after the British took control of the Cape, that interest in the copper deposits of Namaqualand was once again kindled, with travellers to the region reporting on possibilities for both mining and shipping of copper ore and the sampling of ore deposits with considerably higher yield than those assayed in the 17th century. 

After false starts in 1843 and again in 1846-47 mining began in earnest in 1854 in what is today called the Blue Mine, around which the town of Springbok developed. This was followed by massive speculation on the Cape Town Stock Exchange with the establishment of small and for the most part unsustainable mines, most of which never became operational, on literally every mountain in the area. Within a short time sustainable mining operations developed at Okiep, Concordia, Spektakel and some time later at Nababiep and continued at these and later sites almost continuously up to the early 21st century when the last mines were closed. Initially ore and later concentrate and copper from the smelters erected at the mines were transport by ox-wagon to Hondeklip Bay from whence they were shipped. ln the l860s a narrow gauge railway was built from the mines around Okiep to Port Nolloth which was developed as a port. The railway operated until 1942, initially with mules being used as traction and later steam locomotives as sources of water were found along the course of the railway line. The railway was a considerable feat of engineering given the desert climate of the area and its mountainous topography.

In its socio-cultural aspects, the Namaqualand copper mines saw the development of the first company towns of the industrial era in South Africa and the movement of people from various parts of the Cape Colony to Namaqualand to provide labour and to serve the trade that developed there. As importantly, the development of the copper mines was undertaken using British technology developed on the mines of Cornwall and West Devon and in fact the development of the mines around Okiep contributed significantly to the demise of copper mining in south-west of England, with the resulting transfer not only of technology and skills, but also of numbers of Comishmen to Namaqualand and other parts of the world. There is and remains a strong historical connection between these two great former copper producing regions of the world.

As such it is anticipated that the Namaqualand Copper Mining Landscape will be nominated as an extension of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site along with similar sites that share the same connection in Mexico, Australia, Brazil and India.

The Namaqualand copper mines and their associated infrastructure and cultural landscape reflect the beginnings of the mining industry in South Africa in all the myriad ways in which that industry influenced and continues to influence society through the movement and housing of people, the development of transport and other infrastructure and industries and in the development of technological and scientific endeavour. It also reflects the very close links between the development of the Southern African mining industry and mining technology pioneered in Britain, particularly in the counties of Cornwall and Devon, and the landscapes and social structures that went with them.

Land Ownership: This will be a serial nomination consisting of several sites the ownership of which is not yet certain, although it appears that much of it is on the communal lands of the Concordia and Steinkopf communities, or in the hands of the remnant copper mining company, or other private individuals"

Management Structure: A management structure will have to be established as it becomes clear which exact sites are to be nominated and which stakeholders are involved.

Budgetary Matters: This is also a matter for discussion in the future as a nomination develops.

Site Readiness: Whilst some of the sites associated with early mining, principally early buildings in Springbok and the site of Dutch ore extraction in 1685, are protected as provincial heritage sites, the bulk of the work of adequately protecting the component parts of the site has yet to be undertaken and will determine its final boundaries. In first regard, the provincial government has initiated a heritage survey of the approximately 150km route of the former railway (08/09 financial year) and will on the basis thereof initiate protection of the route through the provincial heritage resources authority. It has also budgeted for commencement of the process of surveying of towns specifically Springbok, Okiep, Concordia, Hondeklip Bay, Nababiep and Port Nolloth and the documentation of the remains of copper mines at Springbok, Okiep, Tweefontein and Spektakel over the coming MTEF cycle. It is anticipated that the bulk of the areas that require protection will be protected as Heritage Areas through municipal spatial development frameworks, whilst some will become provincial and national heritage sites.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Namaqualand Copper Mining Landscape is the place of origin of the modern Southern African mining industry as well as the beginnings of an industrial society in Southern Africa. This development was possible due to close connections established at an early stage with copper mining interests in Cornwall and West Devon and the resultant transfer of skills and technology from there and the migration of Cornishmen to Namaqualand.

Criterion (ii): The development of industrialised mining in Namaqualand from the mid19th Century, based on the technology and other systems used in Cornwall and West Devon, represents the first evidence of the evolution of an industrialised society in Southern Africa manifest in the transformation of the landscape through the creation of company towns and villages, a railway and a port facility which laid the basis for the subsequent development of the Southern African mining complex through the use of the Cornish and West Devon model as its foundation.

Criterion (iii): The extent and scope of the remains of copper mining, and the associated development of urban areas in and its impact on the rural landscape of Namaqualand, presents a vivid and legible testimony to the success of the Namaqualand copper mines as a major successor to the mines of Cornwall and West Devon as a world leader in the production of copper.  

Criterion (iv): The copper mining landscape of Namaqualand as a technological ensemble in a landscape, reflects the substantial contribution the area made to the establishment of a foundation for the industrial revolution in Southern Africa as part of the transfer of Cornish and West Devon mining practices around the world.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The relative isolation of Namaqualand and the existence of the bulk of the places associated with the nomination for no other reason than the extraction of copper ensures that they are relatively undisturbed and unchanged> The only exceptions are the towers of Port Nolloth and Springbok which have developed beyond their original purpose, but both of which have sizeable historic districts with high levels of intactness.

Comparison with other similar properties

This site is comparable with other sites on the World Heritage List, specifically those concerned with copper mining, ie, Falun in Sweden, Røros in Norway and the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape in the United Kingdom. Its principle value is as an extension of the inscription of the latter site and as such it shares a close association with other mining landscape in Australia, Brazil, India and Mexico that share similar associations with Cornwall and West Devon and are also expected to be inscribed as extensions of that site.