Far into the veld a few kilometers north of Steinkopf lies an “abandoned fortress” - the haunt of eagles and buzzards by day and owls at night. In places is evidence of a wide straight track now eroded into potholes and gulleys and overgrown with scrubby bushes. It leads right to the foot of the cliffs in the valley beneath the “fortress”. This time of year the area has many interesting flowering plants and unusual butterflies. Nearby is an ochre deposit topped by an ironstone layer with botryoidal goethite. What was the purpose of this fortress? What did it defend? What was it used for? Why should there be such massive earthworks and buildings, so far away in the middle of nowhere with no evidence of any kind of  metallic ore?

This is the question we asked ourselves recently, when we sought out an item of interest mentioned on a large scale map. After a few wrong turnings in rolling scrub covered hills and on a narrow, rough, single track with nothing and no one in sight, we finally rounded a sweeping corner to be faced with the view above. 


Subsequent on site investigation revealed very little that we could understand, except that vast quantities of rock had obviously been removed and carted off somewhere. The ruins on the top of the cliff were inaccessible, but another ramp led up into a giant pit with sides as high as a four storey building, and the length and breadth of a football field. This place was marked on the map as “kalk myn”. 

Only later that day as we left the area did we learn the answer from Anna and Hendrik Visagie who were sitting in the sun with their dogs near the main road. The stone was needed for the Springbok copper mines, to act as a flux in the smelters. From later research, we found out that it is high grade limestone (96% CaCO3) which had been dug out and taken down to the now defunct copper smelter at O‘Okiep. 

So it shows that even in remoteness of the Northern Cape veld, there can be surprises just around the corner. JW