Saturday, 20 August 2011

Manganese Mining in Ghana

The Ghana Manganese Company Ltd. in Nsuta, Wassaw, Western Region, first started operations in 1916. This means that the mine is almost 100 years old. The current managing director of the company, Dutchman Jurgen Eijgendaal is keen to record the history of the mine and publish it as a book for the celebration of the 100-year anniversary. Mr. Eijgendaal’s historical interest is not such a strange thing, as he actually holds a master’s degree in history. Last week I spoke with him about the mine and the upcoming anniversary. The story of the mine is compelling. Not only is it one of the oldest producing mines in the world, it also has a further life expectancy of at least another twenty-five years.

The historic character of the mine is still very much present today. In the 1920s the American company Union Carbide was the owner of the mine and management imported a prefabricated house from America for the director. The house, from Arizona hardwood, is still there and currently in use as a guesthouse. The relationship with the workforce is also historically interesting, with some families having been employed by the mine for three generations. And then there is the strong historical relationship between the railway and the port of Takoradi and the mine. It can only be hoped that come 2016, the story of the mine will indeed be told in the projected book and perhaps in other ways too, to give a wider public some insight in this industry which has been and still is of such great importance for Ghana.

Although the manganese mine has no direct Dutch connections, the Western Region, with its large amounts of natural resources, including a great variety of minerals, has a long relationship with the Dutch. With their headquarters in Axim, captured from the Portuguese in 1642, the Dutch were for a long time – since the mid-seventeenth century – the most important and at times only formal European presence in the region. For a short while they had strongholds on the Ankobra River, one at its mouth, one well into the hinterland (see last blog). At times the Dutch also tried their hand at mining themselves, like the effort to commercially mine gold at Dabokrom near Butre in the 1840s. These efforts were never very successful, however.

It was the British Australian mining engineer and colonial official Albert Ernest Kitson who discovered manganese in Ghana in 1915. With the First World War in its second calendar year, Great Britain had a desperate need for all kinds of raw materials to feed the war industry. One of these was manganese, which was used in the production of steel helmets, themselves a new invention in warfare. The discovery of manganese could therefore not have come at a more opportune moment. By 1916 the mine was in full operation, and exporting up to 30,000 tons (imperial) per year. Allegedly a total of five million helmets were produced with the help of Gold Coast manganese. By 1924 the mine exported 200,000 tons of manganese per year. At first these exports went through the old port of Sekondi, after 1927 through the new port of Takoradi, which today is still the natural maritime outlet of the mining industry in the Western Region of Ghana.

Governor Guggisberg, 1920s moderniser of the Gold Coast Colony, was specifically proud of the manganese mining effort at Nsuta, and the contribution to the war effort it made. In 1923 he commissioned the British artist Edith Cheesman to paint thirty-six watercolours of the new colony he was building. The manganese mine at Nsuta was depicted in two of these. The watercolours were used to produce a series of postcards for the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924, and for this purpose explanatory texts were added. Both postcards have been incorporated in this article. The importance of the mine was also acknowledged in later years. In 1948 the mine was depicted on a stamp, which was reissued in the 1952 series of Gold Coast stamps.

Today, manganese is again an important product, especially in the electro-technic industry, for instance in batteries.

Raphael Tuck Oilette Postcards of the Gold Coast, 1924. Artist: Edith Cheesman. Nos. I-4 'A manganese mine in the Gold Coast' and II-2 'Manganese mine, Insuta, Gold Coast', with descriptions.

Conversation with J. Eijgendaal, Managing Director Ghana Manganese Mining Co., Accra 19 August 2011.


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