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September-October 2017

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The Minerals of Palabora, Limpopo Province, South Africa

The Palabora* Igneous Complex (PIC) is located some 450 kilometers northeast of Johannesburg in Limpopo Province, South Africa, just below the Tropic of Capricorn and directly against the western boundary of the Kruger National Park (fig. 3).

Ancient copper workings on the hill called Loolekop (at the core of the PIC) attracted early European explorers to the area, and mines were established in the 1930s and 1940s to recover apatite and vermiculite from the complex. In 1956 the Palabora Mining Company was set up to develop the large low-grade copper resource hosted by the carbonatite and foskorite (or phoscorite†) rocks of the PIC. Large-scale open-pit copper mining commenced in 1964 (fig. 4), and a diverse range of minerals and metals including copper, apatite, vermiculite, magnetite, baddeleyite, uranium, nickel, gold, silver, platinum, and palladium have subsequently been recovered (; accessed February 2016; Roux et al. 1989).


Dr. Malcolm Southwood has collected minerals for more than thirty years and has a special interest in minerals from southern Africa and the United Kingdom.

Dr. Bruce Cairncross, a consulting editor of Rocks & Minerals, is a professor of geology at the University of Johannesburg.

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