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Musina (Messina), Vhembe District, Limpopo Province, South Africa

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Note: The town, which was founded and settled by people of originally-European descent, was long-named Messina, in 2003, the Limpopo Government changed the name to Musina. However, the name of the mine is still registered as Messina and did not change when the town name changed.

The following is an extract from Cairncross and Dixon (1995):


The copper deposits in the Limpopo river area were known to ancient indigenous African tribes for centuries. The word "Messina" is thought to be a corruption of the word "Musina", which was the name of one of the tribes that moved into the area from Mphumalanga. Prior to the arrival of these migratory tribes, the earlier inhabitants may have had tentative links with the groups that were associated with the Zimbabwe ruins in southern Zimbabwe. Ancient mine excavations have yielded stone hammers, soapstone artifacts and iron tools and wedges. "Musina" is believed to mean "Spoiler" because the small amounts of copper tended to spoil or down-grade the iron produced by the ancient miners. Ancient smelting sites are still known today along the high ridges and hills within 20 kilometres of the town of Messina and particularly from the nearby summit of Singelele Kop.

It was the tales of the ancient copper miners that led Lt. Colonel J.P. Grenfell to send a prospecting team to investigate the region in the years following the second Anglo-Boer war. The Digby, Harper and Campbell shafts are named after members of this exploration party. The outcome of the expedition was the registration of the Messina (Transvaal) Development Company in 1905. This had an initial capital of ,110 000 and ,50 000 in debentures. Emery (1930), provides some details on the Grenfell expedition:

"To the courage and foresight of Colonel J.P. Grenfell, the Messina mines owe their existence. The ancient workings at Messina which were some 80 feet deep (water level) and some 30 feet wide and which contained ... rich copper sulphides, were investigated by Colonel Grenfell in 1903".

In 1914 a reduction works was put into commission, and a small Welsh reverberating furnace turned low-grade concentrates into high-grade matte, which, together with the high-grade concentrations, was shipped overseas to Welsh refineries. In 1920, the Messina mines were closed down pending the erection of the new addition to the concentration plant, and the erection of the new smelting works.

Mining operations were resumed in 1922. Production statistics show that between 1938 and 1940, the Messina plant was producing 10 000 tonnes of copper annually. Ore reserves in 1939 were estimated at 2 811 605 tonnes at a grade of 2.09% Cu. Since the initial establishment of the Messina (Transvaal) Development Company, 40 million tonnes of ore have been mined yielding approximately 700 000 tonnes of copper. It is interesting to note that all of the modern shafts have been sunk on or next to ancient workings.


The copper deposits are hosted by various complexly folded gneisses of the Beit Bridge Complex which were metamorphosed to granulite grade. The position of the copper ores is controlled by two brittle shear zones, the Messina and the Dowe-Tokwe Faults, along which copper-bearing fluids were able to penetrate the country rocks. The copper mineralisation is generally found in veins, lodes and pipe-like breccia bodies. The exact age of the mineralisation around Messina is not known. One theory is that the ore was emplaced during Soutpansberg times (circa 1 900 million years ago), and then partly remobilised during Karoo igneous activity in Jurassic times. Another theory is that the copper mineralisation is genetically linked to the alkaline intrusions of the Nuanetsi Complex in southern Zimbabwe, which are also of Karoo age.

Copper is the only economic metal won from the ore bodies. It occurs in the primary sulphide minerals chalcopyrite, bornite and chalcocite. Chalcopyrite is present along the peripheries of ore bodies and is gradually replaced by bornite, chalcocite and native copper towards the centre and downwards. Host rock alteration follows the zonation of the sulphides by a general increase in hydration of silicate minerals, leaching of quartz and the development of albite, zoisite and epidote, leading to complete destruction of the host rock.

In a detailed study of the Artonvilla Mine, it has been observed that disseminated replacement bodies are best developed at this particular mine. Four separate lodes are developed where mineralisation is accompanied by intense hydrothermal alteration. These disseminated ore bodies, such as the Emery lode, show concentric zoning with respect to both the sulphides and the hydrothermal minerals; an outer zone of sericitisation is followed inward by zones of albitisation, chloritisation and epidotisation.

Accompanying these stages are changes in the sulphides which display a zonation from an outer pyrite zone, through chalcopyrite and bornite, to chalcocite and occasional native copper zones in the core. These minerals formed from an ore fluid that was introduced into the host rocks. This fluid entered the structural traps at temperatures in excess of 650C and passed through the rocks down a temperature gradient which reached about 400C at the outer extremity, resulting in well-developed mineral zonation. The central parts of the ore body indicate mineral associations which equilibrated at temperatures ranging from 140C to 280C.

There are five separate mines, located along an east-northeast trending line and are named the Artonvilla, Spence, Messina, Harper, and the Western Campbell mines. These mines show slight variation in their local geology and mineralisation. At the end of 1992 the Messina Mine (No. 5 Shaft) ended production and was closed down. This was the last remaining operating mine in the region and brought to a close 88 years of copper mining.


By far the most abundant and attractive mineral, from a collectors standpoint, is quartz. The habits and varieties of sizes and groups, together with several colourful secondary mineral inclusions, make the Messina mines quartz specimens interesting items. In particular, inclusions of shattuckite, papagoite and ajoite make spectacular specimens. Minerals that occur associated with the ore bodies and breccia zones are listed below. Due to the brecciation of the ore bodies, a multitude of cavities, vugs and fissures provided the space for growth of crystals, in some cases almost 1m long.

Several publications have documented the abundance and diversity of quartz crystals; for example: "a notable feature ... throughout the breccia pipe (Campbell mine) ... is the development of vugs which are often lined with well-formed crystals of quartz and calcite".

"The early stage of open space filling is dominated by the deposition of quartz which grew from the breccia fragment surfaces outwards, encrusting succeeding layers of quartz forming a typical 'cockade' (phantom) texture. In some cases, well-formed prismatic crystals are formed ... Where permeability of the breccia fragments was low and (sulphide) mineralisation scarce, open spaces ... contain well-terminated prismatic crystals".

The Messina Mine (No. 5 Shaft) is noted for its wealth of beautiful quartz crystals ranging from microscopic size to individual crystals half a metre long. Doubly terminated crystals over 10cm in length have been found in many vugs. The larger crystals are, almost without exception, zoned internally with over a dozen phantom layers occurring in some crystals. These zones can consist of minute inclusions of specular hematite, kaolinite, epidote and chlorite. It is common to find an outer layer of clear euhedral quartz that has grown on the zoned core after the latter has been coated by hematite, epidote, talc, sericite, chlorite, zeolites, malachite or azurite. The presence of flaky specular hematite imparts a striking sheen to the well-formed clear crystals. Hollow kaolinitic spherules are also sometimes incorporated in the core of quartz crystals.

Mineral List

Mineral list contains entries from the region specified including sub-localities

46 valid minerals.

Localities in this Region

South Africa

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Preller, G.S. (1941). Copper mining and smelting at Messina. Official Journal of the Department of Commerce, South Africa, 4(10), 159 161.

Söhnge, P.G., (1945). The geology of the Messina copper mines and surrounding country. Geological Survey of South Africa, Memoir 40, 272 pp.

Schwellnus, C.M. (1953). Geology of Messina copper deposits. South African Mining and Engineering Journal, 64, 557 559.

Spence, W.I., (1961). The Messina Copper Mine. Transactions of the Seventh Commonwealth Mining and Metallurgical Congress, Papers and Discussions Vol. I. South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Johannesburg, 123 144.

Van Graan, S.J., (1964). Geology of the Messina copper deposits. In: Haughton, S.H., (Ed.). The Geology of some Ore Deposits in Southern Africa, vol. 2. Geological Society of South Africa, 739 pp.

Jacobsen, J.B.E. and McCarthy, T.S., (1975). Possible late Karroo carbonatite and basalt intrusions at Messina. Transactions of the Geological Society of South Africa, 78, 153 159.

Jacobsen, J.B.E., McCarthy, T.S. and Laing, G.J.S., (1976). The copper bearing breccia pipes of the Messina district, South Africa. Mineralium Deposita, 11, 33 45.

Mining Annual Review (1985): 410-411.

Bahnemann, K.P., (1986). A review of the geology of the Messina copper deposits, northern Transvaal. In: Anhaeusser, C.R. and Maske, S., (Eds.). Mineral Deposits of Southern Africa, Vols I & II, Geological Society of South Africa, Johannesburg, 1671 1688.

Cairncross, B. (1991): The Messina Mining District, South Africa. Mineralogical Record 22(3) 187-199.

Cairncross, B. and Dixon, R., (1995) Minerals of South Africa. The Geological Society of South Africa: 46-53.

Cairncross, B. (2016). Ajoite: Connoisseur’s Choice, Rocks & Minerals, 91, 426-432.

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