King Mswati III is planning on gold becoming the second mineral exported from Swaziland. File picture: Siphiwe Sibeko, Reuters

Mbabane - Gold mining would return to Swaziland, King Mswati III announced in the Swazi Parliament on Friday. The king holds the rights for all the country’s minerals, which he keeps in trust for the Swazi people. He must personally approve all mining licences.

“The country looks forward to the commissioning of the gold mine at Lufafa and the multiple benefits to accrue for the country,” Mswati told MPs.

Lufafa has Swaziland’s richest gold deposits, estimated at 1 652 700 tons. The Ministry of Natural Resources estimates that nationwide Swaziland has gold deposits of 2 146 231 tons.

“The gold deposits of Swaziland occur in the Barberton Greenstone Belt; a region that lies on the north-western part of the country stretching from about Motshane to Horo. Interestingly, the gold occurrences are all found on the western side of the iron formations,” a natural resources report said on Swaziland’s mineral reserves.

“A lot of work lies ahead of us in developing the mining and quarry sector of the country, particularly on downstream development of our minerals,” Mswati said.

Only anthracite coal is currently mined in the country. Production from the Maloma coal colliery is exported to industrial users in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province.

The Ministry of Natural Resources pegs Swaziland’s coal reserves at 159 million tons. Gold will be the second mineral to be legally excavated in the country. In late 2014, an iron ore mine was shut down due to falling iron ore prices. Production from the mine combined with coal output contributed to 2 percent of Swaziland’s gross domestic product and 2 percent of export earnings.

A diamond mine in the Dvokolwako area of central Swaziland was closed in the 1990s. Subsequent talk of the mine’s reopening has not led to renewed diamond production.

Easily-mined gold veins were exhausted in the late 19th century when Mswati’s great grandfather, King Mbandzeni, issued mineral concessions to European miners. These concessions were cancelled in 1907 by British colonial authorities five years after Swaziland became a British protectorate.

In 1908 Britain expropriated the country’s mineral rights, which had been owned by the Swazis. By that time gold had largely been removed from the country, with no profit for the Swazi people.

To ensure this did not happen again, Mswati told MPs that legislation was required “that will adequately safeguard the national interests and prevent export of our raw materials. The central bank and all relevant structures must also play an active role in the safekeeping of our precious stones.”

Current mining technology would allow the previously unrecoverable or unknown deposits to be excavated, the ministry said.

The Central Bank of Swaziland is assembling a secure storage area at its Mbabane headquarters where gold and diamonds will be documented before being exported.