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The Town under the Trees

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A town built on ironstone


This attractive modern town was established in the 1979, and is a major iron ore mining town.  Since prehistoric times, this area has been known for its rich iron ore deposits.  Even Robert Moffatt referred in his diary to the hills of “glittering black rock” he came across while exploring the area in 1834.


Kathu has one of the five largest open-cast iron ore mining operations in the world. The drilling and 'load and haul' mining equipment used by the mine include giant ore trucks that bear about 260 ton of ore with each load. Mining shovels used to load these trucks can weigh more than 800 tons, and drilling equipment can drill up to 400 mm holes for blasting purposes. Some of the world's longest ore trains travel through harsh territory on the Sishen-Saldanha railway to offload their cargo at Saldanha Bay. Kumba Iron Ore is the principal mine operator in Kathu.

Kathu train at bridge - black and white
Sishen mine
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The Sishen Mine


Sishen Mine is one of the largest open pit mines in the world - about 14 km long. It has one of the largest iron reserves in South Africa - and in the world.

The iron ore is transported by a fleet of 78 Komatsu haul trucks, fitted with collision avoidance systems, to the beneficiation plant. There it is crushed, and then separated into a higher grade product (concentrate) and a waste stream (tailings). Soon the mine will further process the waste material, which will result in improved productivity.

Most of the iron ore is exported, by transporting it along the Sishen-Saldanha railway line. The trains are almost 4 km long.

Kathu's camelthorn Forest 


The Kathu forest situated north of the town of Kathu has been declared a protected woodland in terms of the National Forests Act (1998).  The forest consists of large, majestic camelthorn trees (Acacia erioloba). 


The Kathu forest was registered as a national heritage site in 1995. The farms and portions that make up the forest are currently privately owned.    The Forest is home to more than 200 bird species and 16 species of game, including gemsbok, giraffe, blue wildebeest, zebra, eland, and kudu.

Kumba Mine is a co-partner in managing the site.

Sishen Golf Club

One of the most beautiful sites to appreciate the camelthorn forest is to have lunch at the Sishen Golf Club.


Sittuated on the outskirts of the town of Kathu in the Northern Cape Province, the course winds its way through a 500 hectare Camelthorn forest on the edge of the Kalahari Desert.  Sishen's 18-hole course is currently highly rated amongst the various rating bodies and is truly one of the hidden golfing gems in Southern Africa.  The course is approximately 6450 meters long, and has a rating of 72. 

Tel (053) 723 1501

Golf club
Stone age tools
Ancient stone artefacts

Kathu hosts a remarkable collection of early hominin artifact sites. The density of stone artifacts in the region is staggering. At a site called Kathu Townlands (adjacent to the Heritage Shopping Mall), there are beautiful, teardrop-shaped hand axes, possibly dating to around a million years old.  

The Early Stone Age lasted roughly from 1 million years ago to 250 000 years ago. This long era was characterized by the use of large stone cutting tools, in particular  hand axes, but also cleavers and tool types such as scrapers.

Early stone age sites, in South Africa, include Kathu and Wonderwerk Cave - see map alongside ...

The early stone age is often referred to as the Acheulian  - a term coined from a town called Saint-Acheul in France, where such early stone tools were found in 1859.


The Middle Stone Age lasted from about 250 000 to 50 000 years ago. During this time, there was greater specialization in the production of stone tools, in particular flake, blade and scraper tools. Modern humans, (Homo sapiens) developed, with complex cognition, technological innovations and symbolic expressions.


During the Late Stone Age (LSA), from about 50 000 years ago, small and refine stone tools were produced. These people also made bone implements, weapon armatures and a range of decorative items.

The Kathu townlands have tools from all these vast epochs. The reason is that the site has excellent ironstone layers, created in the early history of the earth (around 3 billion years ago). For early man - called Homo Ergaster - this was an ideal factory!

Early stone age tools in Kathu

Early stone age tools in Kathu

Early Stone Age sites in SA

Early Stone Age sites in SA

Early stone age sites, in South Africa, include Kathu and Wonderwerk Cave - see map (accessed from Richard Klein, Early Stone Age sites in South Africa, South African Archaeological Bulletin, vol 55, 2000. Access the full article here.

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