The eighties and nineties
In 1988 Tsumeb Corporation Ltd was acquired by Gold Fields South Africa Limited (GFSA), and the administration of its operations was transferred to the local subsidiary Gold Fields Namibia (GFN). The lead smelter closed permanently in 1994.
Several factors contributed to the closure of the Tsumeb Mine in 1996. As mining operations deepened, the metal content of the ore decreased, and pumping costs climbed. Metal prices weakened in the mid-1990s, further eroding the viability of such a deep and relatively high-cost mining operation and so, in May 1996, mining in the deeper levels of the mine was halted, although work continued in the upper levels. The last straw, however, came in the form of deteriorating labour relations and, following a prolonged strike in July and August of 1996 in which striking employees prevented maintenance access, the mine was finally closed, and the flow of groundwater caused the workings to flood rapidly. When the mine closed, the deepest workings were on 48 Level, some 1650 metres below surface.
After the mine closed
Gold Fields Namibia was liquidated in 1998. In early 2000, Ongopolo Mining and Processing Ltd. (OMPL) received approval from Namibia’s High Court to purchase the mining and smelting assets formerly held by GFN. These included the mines at Khusib Springs, Otjihase, Kombat and, of course, Tsumeb, as well as the Tsumeb copper smelter.
OMPL entered into an agreement with Tsumeb Specimen Mining (Pty) Ltd and in 2001, Tsumeb was briefly back in operation as a specimen mine. The venture, led by Ian Bruce of Crystal Classics, Simon Brock, and David Lloyd, overcame many technical difficulties, but met with limited success in terms of mineral specimen recovery.
Weatherly Mining International acquired OMPL in 2006. In late 2008 Weatherly suspended all mining operations as the copper price fell in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis. The copper smelter remained in operation, however, and was sold to Dundee Precious Metal Inc. in 2010.
Mineralogically, the Tsumeb story is by no means over. The flow of fresh specimen material has, of course, ceased, but the massive inventory of mineralogical material held in public and private collections is being subjected to ever-closer scrutiny. At the time of writing (2014), no less than 25 new minerals have been described since the closure of the mine in 1996. Happily, there is nothing to suggest that this trail of discovery is about to end.
Today the Tsumeb mine, though dormant, remains a prominent feature of the town and its history; The De Wet Shaft headgear looms over the main street, and the visitor can walk unimpeded among many of the old mine buildings, which now form part of an office and industrial park. A little way out of town, the copper smelter continues to operate, under the ownership of Dundee Precious Metals, treating concentrates produced elsewhere in Namibia as well as complex concentrates shipped from other parts of Africa and further afield (www.Tsumeb.com.na).