Abutua and Cam & Motor Mine

    An 18th Century French map of Monomotapa and neighbouring states from the 25-volume Historie Générale des Voyages atlas drawn up by Jaques Nicholas Bellin (1703-1772), the French Royal Hydrographer, illustrating the travels of Antonio Francois Prévost d’Exiles from 1738-1775. Note Abutua is shown on the extreme left on the other side of the Zambezi, which is shown with its other name that was in use until the 18th Century, the Cuama. The name Tete is apparent, it shows the Mazoe (Mazeno) flowing from burro mines d’Or (great gold mines), and towns in Mashonaland included Luane (Luanze), Bueto (Bocuto), the Monomotapa’s capital and “Zimbaoe” in Quiteve. — (JRW Private Collection)

    Jono Waters
    RioZim is now re-mining the Cam & Motor tribute, historically Zimbabwe’s richest gold mine with 4,5 million ounces (140 tonnes) of gold extracted during its modern life up to 1968. But RioZim was not the first, and certainly won’t be the last to mine the one-time Kingdom of Abutua, known to the Portuguese as the Mãe d’ouro or Mother of Gold.

    Abutua or Butua is the correct term for the Midlands province. Abutua was the name of the gold fields around modern day Kadoma and Kwekwe, home of Zimbabwe’s second richest gold mine, the Globe & Phoenix, which has produced over 120 tonnes of gold.

    The first report of the area was from Antonio Fernandes, who travelled through Zimbabwe in 1511 and which reached Portugal in 1516.

    The King of Butua “has much gold. This is extracted alongside the rivers of fresh water”, he told the scribe at Sofala, Gaspar Veloso.

    Writing a century later, the Padre António Gomes said: “Blacks from Abatua bring a lot of gold in thick pieces weighing about three or four patacas being the best carats in all these lands.”

    So what did the Portuguese do about it?

    Initially they traded beads and cloth for the gold from their bases at Sofala, just south of Beira, and from Mozambique Island in the north.

    However, the supply of gold was disrupted soon after establishing forts at these two locations, partly as a result of inter-chieftain wars inland, but also because they had to compete against the Moors (Muslims) for the gold on offer.

    A military expedition to conquer the Monomotapa was launched in 1569 and finally abandoned in 1575. Five years later Portugal was annexed by Spain, and the approach turned to the establishment fairs (feira) in Mashonaland in the late 16th Century until their expulsion by the Rozvi in 1693.

    In fact, the Portuguese referred to most of modern Zimbabwe as Rios, short for Rios d’oure (Rivers of Gold).


    They were in fact small gold trading posts, which usually had a few Portuguese families operating under a capitão (Captain). It was easy to collect the gold in one place, and the reigning Monomotapa could also keep an eye on them, ensuring they paid their curva (tribute).

    The biggest of all the feira was Dambarare, near what is the Jumbo mine at Mazowe.

    In Abutua, they established Maramuca, which refers to “Rimuka” being the lands between the Mupfure and Umsweswe rivers, which is exactly where the fair was located. The name of the largest township in Kadoma is still called Rimuka today.

    In February 1965, a 1947 mining report was found in the Kadoma Mining Commissioner’s office and described a “Portuguese fort near the Suri Suri river in the Golden Valley-Chakari districts.

    The archaeologist Peter Garlake excavated the site shortly afterwards and declared it to be Maramuca. Consideration should also be given to popularisation of the folk song Maramuca, by Thomas Mapfumo with the continuous refrain “I’m going to collect my father’s wealth in Maramuca.”

    When was Maramuca established then?

    The exact date is not known, but it rose to prominence during the reign of the Mutapa Mavura, the Portuguese puppet who ruled from 1629 to 1652.

    The story is really too long to tell here, but two descent lines had claimed legitimate right to the throne after the death of Gatsi Rusere in 1623.

    After having defeated the forces led by Kapararidze (also known as Caprasine) in 1629, the Dominicans put Mavura on the throne (after baptising him and having him sign a treaty of vassalage to the Portuguese Crown).

    The Karanga broadly did not accept Mavura and many fled to join Kapararidze, who had taken refuge across the Zambezi with the Maravi (how Malawi got its name). It is only after Diogo de Sousa de Meneses marched to the Zimbabwe highveld in 1632 with an army of 2 000 and utterly destroyed Kapararidze’s forces that the Portuguese period of dominance on the highveld started.

    Give us a paragraph on the economics pre-Mavura?

    Until Mavura was forced to sign the humiliating treaty of vassalage in 1629, the Monomotapas had retained wide economic control over their territory.

    The Portuguese had had jurisdiction within their own fairs, and then only in the name of the chief; they were not free to travel or trade at will, and paid taxes to the Monomotapa.

    The chief controlled gold production, taxing output and determining which mines were to be worked. He also enjoyed the profits of justice and received a handsome annual present from the Portuguese to oil the wheels of commerce.

    The chief was able to dispense patronage, providing his followers with prestige imports, wives and land and so maintained the reciprocal relationships on which chieftancy depended.

    And during Mavura’s reign?

    After 1629, the Portuguese travelled about the rivers and traded at will; they usurped lands, seized women to reward their Tonga fol-

    lowers and forcibly recruited labour.

    They opened their own gold diggings and the number of fortified feira and mining camps multiplied, many being privately owned.

    Towards the middle of the century, they had acquired detailed knowledge of the gold reefs. They knew that gold was painfully extracted from small diggings and no longer expected to find gold mines that could be exploited on a large scale . . . the myth of the Eldorado.

    As the century progressed the gold mining and trading frontier moved south west and Portuguese sertanejos (backwoodsmen/mercenaries                                                       . . .  although commodity traders would not be a bad description of them today) began trading for gold in Maramuca.

    As the historian Prof Malyn Newitt notes: “The Portuguese were also following the population, for it seems that many Karanga abandoned the northern areas controlled by the Portuguese to avoid their lawless exactions. As the population moved south, the Portuguese followed.”

    This must have enriched the Portuguese state?

    Not really. Most gold went East to buy spices, which went then West to Europe. Operating conditions were extremely hard given disease and hostile tribes.

    The era of the Portuguese in Mashonaland was drawing to a close when the Jesuit Manoel Barreto visited in 1667. He still reported the richest gold-producing lands were those around Maramuca, adding its Tonga inhabitants were so courageous that they killed lions and leopards with knobkerries.

    They also extracted only enough gold for their own immediate needs so as to not to “excite the cupidity of the Portuguese”. But the Portuguese chronicler António da Conceição lamented that very little of this gold ever went to Portugal and only served to enrich India.

    The gold was mined in Africa, only to be transported to India where it was reburied — a reference to the Hindu custom of cremating the dead with their jewellery.

    In 1897, Telford Edwards estimated that there were about 75 000 ancient workings in Zimbabwe and projected that around 20 million ounces (675 tonnes of gold) was mined during the period before 1890, with miners unable to go much deeper than 30 metres before they encountered the water table.

    Maramuca sounds rather like the wild West?

    Certainly. No one was really in charge and in the early 1640s (after Portugal secured its independence from Spain) there was a major Portuguese incursion into Butua.

    As was so often the case, a succession dispute had led to one of the claimants coming to Manica to seek Portuguese aid.

    In Manica at the time was Sisando Dias Bayão, the most powerful setanejo of the day. Obviously figuring on a commercial gain, he led a force of musketeers to the region and placed his protégé on the throne, building a fort and leaving a garrison. Bayão was never to enjoy the fruits of his fiefdom after he was poisoned by jealous rivals at Luanze (near Kotwa) in 1644.

    Within a decade Gonçalo João seized control of the region, but then lost out in the bitter in feuds that were weakening the community.

    So the end for the Portuguese was nigh?

    Yes, but it took another 50 years of Portuguese meddling in the internal affairs of the Monomotapa’s state. In 1645, Mavura protested to the Portuguese Viceroy that — “they, the Portuguese, do great harm to the people, killing some, wounding others, stealing sons and daughters and cows of their herds so that each day I have complaints in this my Zimbabwe”.

    The Portuguese were oblivious to this and it was to be there undoing. Unknowingly they had alienated the sub-chiefs and spirit mediums, whose power was so important.

    The mhondoros had taken umbrage to their interference in succession disputes, their practice of forcing the Monomotapas to be baptised and pushing their children to be educated by the Portuguese.

    In 1693, with the Portuguese considering installing Nhenheenze, who had been educated in Tete by a Augustinian friar, Monomotapa Nyamaende Mhande (also known as Nhacumimbiri) enlisted the help of the Rozvi in the south led by Changamire Dombo.

    What happened at Maramuca?

    By this time, the centre of gold mining had already moved to “Quitambororozi”, which is an obvious reference to (Chito) Murombedzi in Zvimba and no mention is made of Maramuca again. Conceição described Quitambororozi as the place “from where in all those past years came the greatest quantity of gold because the said place is so rich in it that anywhere you dig you find it”.

    Conceição said the feira was not far from the headwaters of the Angwa, where Golden Kopje mine is located. The Canarins (early Goans) ran this feira, which was said to be three days journey from Dambarare, the place Dombo chose to attack in November 1693 with complete surprise.

    The residents of Dambarare and many visiting traders were unable to gain the security of the fort, which was without garrison anyway. Some collected at the house of the most powerful resident. But all were killed, Portuguese and Indian alike.

    The Rozvi went to church where they disinterred the bones of the dead, and according to Conceição produced a powerful medicine to make them invincible to the Portuguese.

    They flayed two Dominican friars alive, along with other Portuguese, and displayed the skins at the head of the army as proof of Changamire’s power, and further terrorised the Tonga followers of the Portuguese.

    The Indians at Quitambororozi and Portuguese at the forts further down the Angwa fled down the Zambezi escarpment to the Monomotapa’s dzimbabwe near Mahowe.

    On hearing the news, Pires Saro, the capitão in the Monomotapa’s fort, considered killing Nyamaende Mhande, but he was surrounded by too larger bodyguard and the Portuguese opted to fall back to Tete and Sena where their arrival caused great consternation.

    Hasta la vista?

    No chance. For the entire 18th Century (1700s), the Rozvi banned foreigners from the geographical space that is Zimbabwe today.

    After mfecane and the resultant Nguni migrations from South Africa, Zwangendaba smashed the power base of the Rozvi in the mid-1830s, and hunters started to drift into the country again.

    Henry Hartley, on returning to the Transvaal in 1865, reported having seen ancient workings through much of the country.

    The German geologist Karl Mauch, who brought knowledge of Great Zimbabwe to the wider world, was in a follow up expedition in 1866-1867 and confirmed the presence of gold.

    The expectations of a second Witwatersrand spurred on the imperialist ambitions of Cecil Rhodes, who with a Royal Charter, and the Rudd Concession paving the way for mineral exploitation, sent a party of 300 troops northwards to exploit the goldfields of Mashonaland in 1890.

    Another map by Bellin from Historie Générale des Voyages showing Abutua from the West. This time it appears tied in with “Toroa”, or the Torwa dynasty, which ruled at Khami near Bulawayo in 16th Century, before being usurped by the Rozvi. It claims the region was rich in “argent” (silver), which was entirely erroneous.

    Indeed, the Monomotapa misled the Portuguese for many years over the presence of silver, which they alleged was to be found at Chikova, now submerged under Cahora Bassa. The map again shows Tete, and Bukuto (Bocuto), one of the three major feira in Mashonaland before 1632, is shown between tributaries of a unnamed river that would appear to be the Mazoe. (JRW Private Collection)

    So what happened when Rhodes & co turned up?

    Among the first to peg the ancient workings around Kadoma were Rhodes’ right hand man, Dr Leander Starr Jameson, and the settlers’ guide, the hunter, Frederick Courtney Selous.

    Jameson came to the early conclusion (February 1891 when his claims lapsed) that gold prospecting was a sheer waste of his talents and moved onto more profitable ventures. Selous hardly did any better, selling his Good Shepherd claims 16 years later for a paltry £135.

    Lord Raldolph Churchill went through the area in 1891 and was not too complimentary (“the district is infested by the tsetse fly”), and he pronounced: “But the truth has to be told. Mashonaland, so far as is at the present known, is neither an Arcadia nor an El Dorado . . . Mr A Beit with his party returned from their examination of the much talked about ‘Eiffel’ district much disappointed”.

    What was to become the Cam & Motor Mine was a block of land 5km by 5km, which was surveyed by the chief mining and railway engineer, George Pauling, on Rhodes’ instructions.

    Legislation was such that companies had to pay the BSA Company a 50 percent tribute.

    The BSA Company also had significant stakes in all mining companies (since it owned the mining rights, and only sold them to the Southern Rhodesian government in 1933) and before 1903, individuals were not allowed to exploit gold reefs for personal gain; even after 1903 the BSA Co had the right to hold up to 30 percent of each registered mining claim.

    After the country had been opened up for the small worker, several sought to peg claims on the Flats field. Among them were Jack Cameron and Arthur Campion, who in partnership pegged several blocks. The Cam came from the first three letters of each name, and this initiated the naming of the other claims based on relevant parts of an internal combustion engine.

    So when did Rio get involved?

    Not until 1960 when the mine was nearing the end of its life. Ownership changed several times after Cameron and Campion went their separate ways.

    In 1909, Lonrho with Julius Weil as chairman, secured an option on the most valuable Flats claims and in September 1910, the Cam & Motor Mining Company was registered and floated on the London market.  Knowing its reserves were soon to be exhausted, shareholders were surprised in the late 1950s to learn Rio was interested in acquiring the mine.

    However, Rio’s interest in “the Cam” extended far wider than the mine itself. Since 1954, when Rio Tinto mines in Spain had been nationalised, it had been exploring in central and southern Africa where it had operated under the name of “Mineral Search Africa” and acquired and evaluated ore bodies that included Empress, Sandawana and Palaborwa in the Eastern Transvaal.

    The company required a home base and some experienced mine staff. Thus “the Cam” became the home headquarters for such mines as Pickstone, Patchway, Brompton, Empress and Perseverance. It was closed in 1968 when the mine reached a depth of 1 800 metres.

    So what has RioZim done this time?

    Well they opened an open cast pit at Eiffel Flats that initially will go down to 100 metres. They’ve already defined a resource of 10 million tonnes of ore, which should produce around 320 000 ounces of  gold.

    From its knowledge of the ore body, RioZim believe there is another 16 million tonnes of ore at a grade of around 4g/t, which should see another 500 000oz produced. If all goes according to plan, they should be able to produce around 70 000oz or 2 tonnes of gold a year for 12 years, which should take production through to 2025 . . . and they could go deeper . . . to 200 metres in all 3 ore bodies — the Cam, Motor and Petrol lodes.

    RioZim’s plans, of course, depends on the gold price and costs, but perhaps more so what happens on the political front, which this briefing demonstrates remains little changed from centuries previous.


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