The name is said to mean ‘better here than in the south‘, referring to the peaceful existence refugees enjoyed after fleeing from the Swazi and Zulu in the south.
This is one of the country’s youngest towns (1957) and one where the distinction between summer and winter is hardly noticeable.
About 2 000 million years ago a volcanic eruption occurred. The cone of the eruption has vanished, but the pipe, or throat – an astonishing geological feature – remains. The mines at Phalaborwa are major sources of phosphates, copper, vermiculite and iron. The ores from which these minerals are extracted are concentrated in the huge ‘pipe’ – much like a kimberlite diamond pipe. The surface area of the pipe is about 20km2 and it also contains quantities of zirconium, mica and gold.
It is known that certain black tribes began to mine iron and copper here two or more centuries ago. Some of their clay smelting ovens have been found and are being preserved. Traces have also been found of the weapons and ornaments they fashioned from the iron and copper. The ancestors of these tribes had first moved to an area further south but then returned to the land bounded by the Olifants and Letaba Rivers. This return migration accounts for the name Phalaborwa, meaning ‘better than the south’.
The first mine to operate in the area was the Guide Copper Mine in 1904 but transport difficulties put the mine out of business. In 1938 a start was made with the mining of vermiculite. Phosphate production began in 1952 when the . government created Foskor (Phosphate Development Corporation) in order to make South Africa independent of phosphate imports. The phosphate deposits in the pipe are thought to be enough to supply South Africa’s requirements for many hundreds of years.
Apart from the phosphates, magnetite (source of iron) and copper ore have also been mined since 1965. The open cast mine taken down the Phalaborwa phosphate and copper pipe measures 1,5 by 2,4km, probably the widest man-made hole in the country. Much of the copper is exported to Germany and the magnetite to Japan. Another important by product of the mining operations is sulphuric acid.
There is an entrance to the Kruger National Park on the eastern outskirts of the town of Phalaborwa.
Main Places of Interest: Mines, Indigenous Tree Park, Kruger National Park, Kgoplwe hill, Mopani and Morula tree nature park, Foskor