History of the Tsumeb Mine

Tsumeb in pre-history

The name “Tsumeb” is believed to derive from the word “Otjisume”, which means place of the algae (in the Herero language), in allusion to the green, and perhaps botryoidal (?), surface of the malachite-rich outcrop of the “Green Hill”. 

When early European settlers in South West Africa first ventured inland in the mid-nineteenth century, the Otavi Mountainland (where the Tsumeb deposit is located) was inhabited by Saan Bushmen and Bergdama tribesmen. We do not know when these people first removed copper ore from the Tsumeb outcrop, or “Green Hill”, and smelted or traded it.  Primitive techniques for smelting copper were practiced in the Middle East as early as 4000 BCE, but were probably introduced to southern Africa only from c. 500 CE.   Söhnge (1976) suggests that wandering Bergdama tribesmen passed this know-how to the Bushmen, while Gebhard (1999) notes that the Bushmen traded copper ores with the Ovambo tribe who, in turn, smelted the copper; probably both are correct.