on October 28th, 2021

On the Southern tip of Africa sits unfathomable natural resources. Mining has made countries like Botswana, Zambia, and South Africa a place of innovation, where record-setting feats in mining have won the acclaim and adoration of the world.  

Here are some jaw-dropping mining records from this rich African region you might not have known. 

The World’s Deepest Mining Shafts

Digging four kilometers beneath the earth’s surface the Mponeng Gold Mine in the Gauteng province of South Africa is mesmerizing.    

Above-ground operations at Mponeng mine. Wikipedia Commons.

The deep and extensive tunnel reached a depth of 3,9km by 2012 and has since expanded to a Guinness World Record of 4km.

The gold mine delivers an estimated 405,000 oz of gold annually – but mining the mineral is a heated affair.  

Tunnels can reach temperatures of 60°C.

To cool down the tunnels around 6,000 tonnes of ice slurry are pumped into underground reservoirs that connect to giant fans that aid the airflow.  

In a single day up to 5,00lb of explosives are used to excavate around 6,400 tonnes of rock from deep within the mine.  

In 2020 Harmony Gold in South Africa acquired the mine and as it stands the mine has a deferred compensation of US$260 per ounce on underground gold. 

The mine is set to produce over 250 000 ounces per annum for the next six years and Mponeng Deferred Compensation has a value of approximately $100 million. These figures show that not only is the mine still extremely valuable, but also profitable.

Largest Excavation by Hand 

Automation and machine-driven processes have been synonymous with mining, but before machines were employed to do the gritty work mines were manually dug. 

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The diamond-rich Jagersfontein Mine, now an abandoned hole, is the largest excavation by hand in the world.

During the diamond rush of the early 1900s to Kimberley in South Africa, the Guinness Book of World Records estimates that the Jagersfontein Mine was dug to a depth of 201m (660 ft) between 1888 and 1911.  

The mine still operated until 1971 but has now become a tourist site. But Jagersfontein has competition.

The nearby Big Hole has is a famous landmark in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, and is often referred to as the deepest hand-made excavation on the planet by word of mouth, but it’s Jagersfontein Mine that holds the title. 

It’s estimated that about 9.6 million carats (that’s 1,900kg) of jewel-quality diamonds were extracted from the mine. 

The Largest Diamond Ever Mined 

At 3,106 carat the Cullinan diamond found in 1905 in Pretoria, South Africa is still the largest in the world.

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Known as The Cullinan, the diamond was eventually presented to the British monarch Edward VII and was cut into 106 polished diamonds.

The largest of which is known as Star of Africa and sits on the Royal Scepter in Buckingham Palace. The Star of Africa weighs a whopping 530,2 carat.

Also cut from The Cullinan is Cullinan 11 that forms part of the Imperial State Crown Queen Elizabeth II during the United Kingdom’s Opening of Parliament.

Cullinan is still a valuable mining site within South Africa and also a tourist destination where the mining history of the area is celebrated. 

While the diamond gave the area notoriety currently Cullinan is a valuable Ore producer.

Cullinan Diamond Mine currently handles 3.2 million tons of run of ore.  

World’s Tallest Elevator Operating in a Mine 

What is the one thing that would perfectly accompany the world’s deepest mine shaft? The world’s tallest elevator of course.

Via Wikimedia Commons

The Mponeng Gold Mine is the place where you’ll find the world’s tallest elevator which is also the world’s tallest mining elevator. 

With the main elevator at 2,283 m (7,490 ft), a single decent is taller than the world’s tallest building.

There’s a second elevator also in operation that takes around 4,000 miners from 2,283m to 3,597m daily.  

The elevator is so sturdy it can carry 120 miners in a single trip and only takes around 3minutes to make its descent into the mine.

The elevator has been in operation since 1986. 

The mine has also helped establish research into Energy release rate (ERR), a well-known concept in the South African tabular mining rock engineering industry.  

Thanks to the mine conceptual modeling have been able to provide confidence that elastic energy concepts are valid for the deep level tabular mining environment after a series of studies, and the results can be extracted using commercial boundary element modeling software packages. 

The World’s Largest Diamond Mine Operation 

Botswana’s Orapa Diamond Mine stretches 1,18km2 and is considered the world’s largest diamond mine by area, and also the largest open-pit diamond mine in the world.  

Via Wikipedia Commons

What makes the mine so interesting is that it can be considered quite new.

The mine’s history dates back to 1955, but it was only in 1967 during Botswana’s independence that detailed expeditions in the Orapa area were done.  

Only in 1969 was the De Beers Botswana Mining Company found, and since then it has become an important part of the country’s thriving economy, which by GDP is one of the best growing economies in the world. 

Around the mine, the Orapa Makgadikgadi Nature Reserve has become a top travel destination for those who want to experience the hinterlands of Botswana on safari.

The De Beers Group has become entrenched in the are promoting biodiversity, maintain 22,000 hectares for recreation, education, and conservation around the mine.

Some developments include a museum dedicated to the history of mining in Botswana, developing a model town while contributing to the economy. 

The area’s diamonds are due to the Mogondi Metamorphic belt of the western Kaapvaal  or Zimbabwe cratons which have a high diamond grade and contain the gem-quality  macro diamonds that the area is known for.

The mine has produced well over produced 16.3 million carats (3,260 kg) of diamonds. 

World’s Largest Emerald Mine 

Landlocked Zambia is another jewel in the African crown thanks to the Kagem Emerald Mine. Producing around 6 metric tonnes of emeralds annually it has become an impressive gemstone mine. 

Producing around 6 metric tonnes of emeralds annually it has become an impressive gemstone mine. 

The mine is located in the Kafubu region of Zambia and thanks to the significant resources and the consistency of emeralds relating to size and color it is the second most important producer in the world after Zambia.

Kagem Emerald Mine consists of open-pit mines where the gemstones are extracted. 

What makes the area unique is the fact that the Kafubu mining area has been subdivided into several hundred small concessions.

Most of the concessions are located in areas with unpromising geology, while others have been amalgamated into Kagem.   

Because of too much water during the rainy season that stretches from November to March in the area the mines are not suited for underground work, which is why open-pit mines remain favorable.


Shirey, Steven & Smit, Karen & Gaillou, Eloise & Richardson, Stephen & Harris, Jeffrey. (2015). Sources of diamonds from Orapa, Botswana, and evolution of the Kaapvaal-Zimbabwe cratons. 

Harmony Gold, 2020. Harmony’s Acquisition of Mponeng and Mine Waste Solutions from AngloGold Ashanti. [online] Available at: https://www.harmony.co.za/invest/company-announcements/2020/item/1089-harmonys-acquisition-of-mponeng-and-mine-waste-solutions-from-anglogold-ashanti (Accessed 14 October) 

Guiness World Records. Deepest Mine. [online] Available at: https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/66169-deepest-mine (Accessed 14 October) 

FreeJournal, 2009. Jagersfontein Mine. [online] Available at: https://ww.en.freejournal.org/12443534/1/jagersfontein-mine.html (Accessed 18 October) 

Guinness World Records. Largest Excavation by Hand. [online] Available at: https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/93619-largest-excavation-by-hand (Accessed 14 October) 

Bester, A.W.. (2005). The re-engineering of the ground handling system at Cullinan Diamond Mine. Journal- South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy. 105. 149-162. 

Guinness World Records. Largest Diamond Mine. [online] Available at: https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/66759-largest-diamond (Accessed 14 October) 

Hofmann, Gerhard. (2012). Correlating modelled elastic energy release with recorded seismicity in a deep tabular mine. 

Zwaan, J.C. (Hanco) & Seifert, Antonín & Vrána, Stanislav & Laurs, Brendan & Anckar, Björn & Simmons, William & Falster, Alexander & Lustenhouwer, Wim & Koivula, John & Garcia-Guillerminet, Héja. (2005). Emeralds from the Kafubu Area, Zambia. Gems and Gemology. 41. 2-34. 10.5741/GEMS.41.2.116. 

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