The great Neutraliser: Limestone

On Sunday, 21 September 2014, the three family members of Papierazzi set off early in the morning, on our first journey to discover the first of the Lesser Known Heritage Sites of Mpumalanga. Joining me on the trip were my husband, Location Scout*, and my 6 year old daughter, Sprite*.

This was family time at its best. We had snacks, an itinerary, undiscovered territory and the open road. All great ingredients on their own, but mix them together and you are set to experience magic!

Location Scout made the executive decision that we would depart from Mbombela (Nelspruit) to Ngodwana by way of the N4, visit the Lime Kiln Site and then circle back via the Kaapschehoop road to Mbombela. A comfortable drive of about 100km, leaving us lots of time to get out of the car and explore the area.

First Stop

Just past the Alkmaar turnoff there is a quaint little farm stall to you left (traveling from Mbombela). But don’t let looks deceive you. The Country Farm Stall & Nursery might look small from the outside, but its got lots of soul. Drawn in by the decorative bunting and colorful flowers an unanimous YES was given to the question: “Should we stop so soon after our departure?” 

Entering the shop with its French Country Decor you are met with sounds of a babbling brook and inviting decor.

But more about this gem from the Farm stall crown will follow in my next post.

The interior
The Country Farm Stall & Nursery
The Country Farm Stall & Nursery

Lime kilns, Ngodwana

As the road curves  to reveal the 4-way crossing just entering Ngodwana, with the Engen garage on your right, continue straight towards Pretoria until you see the Sappi Training Centre on your left, just before the Trac (N4) Weigh Bridge.

The Lime kilns are visible from the road and easy to reach by basically any type of vehicle.

Keep to your left and follow the road, leading you to a giant sycamore, with ample shaded parking.

Heritage Site
Lime Kilns, Ngodwana (N4) Mpumalanga

The Science

The Lime-burning process might seem elementary at first glance. It consist of the release of CO₂ from the CaCO₃ chemical structure of carbonate rock when heat is added, and can be reduced to a simple equation:

CaCO₃ = CaO + CO₂

But ask any metallurgists, hopefully there will be some reading this, and I am sure they will be willing to point out several complexities in the process.

You see, Limestones are made up of a number of other elements. Its mainly composed of CaCO₃, but also contains in varying amounts iron oxide, silica, magnesium carbonate and alumina.

If the color and grain is nice, it is referred to as marble {the stuff that’s used for kitchen and bathroom surfaces and ridiculously expensive tiles}.

No two Limestone deposits are similar in physical or chemical characteristics, thus the complexity exists.

View to the West
View to the West

The Design

There are three categories that Lime kilns are operated by namely Batch, Intermittent and Continuous Basis.

The Lime kilns at Ngodwana form part of the Batch operated kiln designs. This method of operation is very wasteful in fuel used to generate the heat as the heat cannot be retained or reused as batches had to cool off before the Lime could be recovered. This method is rarely used in modern times.

The structures at Ngodwana towers 18 meters above ground and consist of brick, Limestone and metal straps with adjustable buckles.

The kilns were constructed by Italian builders and German metal workers, with some of the metal plates imported from Germany. They were commissioned by one of the first immigrants to arrive in the Elands Valley, a German named Goddard.

Tower with adjustable metal straps and buckles
Tower with metal straps and adjustable buckles

The Desolation

At first these kilns were very productive, supplying the mines of the immediate vicinity, such as Kaapschehoop, and even as far a Barberton.

With the completion of the ZASM railway the Lime was taken further afield to the Witwatersrand goldfields.

Around 1899 the mine was abandoned by Goddard after demand declined due to another method to extract gold was discovered. Goddard left secretly without paying his workers and the mine was declared insolvent and the equipment sold.

Provincial Heritage Site
Provincial Heritage Site

The Conclusion

From the production of gold and uranium to sugar and cement, paper, iron, agricultural use and water treatment, Lime is the most widely used chemical alkali. It’s THE GREAT NEUTRALISER.

While the 3 members of Papierazzi took a leisurely stroll to the viewpoint at Kaapschehoop at the close of an enjoyable day I had the following self-discovery.

Setting out on this journey of discovery was at first a purely exploratory venture; a documenting of history.

But I have come to realise similarities in the composition of our South African society that runs parallel to that of the Lime; the extraction of “human gold” and by that I refer to the richness in character that lies hidden in each of our fellow countrymen.

A richness not only found in our heritage, or natural surrounds but also in love for and of our people. People like Maureen Nkosi, OB Smith and Elsabe Coetzee from Sappi and Marius Bakkes from Mpumalanga Heritage Interest Group, without whom this would not have been the same.

This journey of discovery has made me look differently at the Lime kilns of Ngodwana and the people of our nation.

From something as seemingly ordinary and readily available as Limestone comes extraordinary natural spaces such as the Sudwala Caves in Mpumalanga and extraordinary uses such as  extracting gold by utilizing the positive characteristics of this specific type of ground.

Join me in my discovery of the richness of our province and people and let’s #loveMpumalanga together.

* not their real names

Additional reading:

Memories of the Lowveld’s Elands Valley 1854 – 1983 ~ Davies-Webb, Paddy, 2009. Privately published

Lime in South Africa: Journal of the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, August 1969. 


8 Comments Add yours

  1. Riette says:

    Very informative! Never knew the place existed. Love the pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This region is steeped in history, so much to explore. Glad you enjoyed the post.


  2. Soretha Pelser says:

    Wow you 3 really had a ball of a time.Thanks for all the interesting facts and stunning pics that you shared.Felt we where in car travelling with you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Soretha, you are always welcome to explore #Mpumalanga with us or follow along on our journey through the blog


  3. Daphne says:

    It is so interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Daphne, glad you enjoyed it. Hope you’ll stop there on your way to #loveMpumalanga


  4. Carien says:

    Great info…great pics…well done!! I hope you will discover many more mpumalanga gems and share them with us…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Appreciate the encouragement, Carien. My next post will be live tomorrow. All about farm stalls.


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