Swaziland Steam Train Railway Lament

A story about the picturesque Swaziland Steam Railway

By Dennis Mitchell

All photos not credited are taken by the author.

swaziland white rhino steam train 700 class

4-8-2 no 706 leaves the tunnel where the rare white Rhino was often spotted

Map Of The Swaziland Railway

Swaziland rail map steam train stories africa

Swaziland Railway Beginnings

The Swaziland railway was completed in 1964 to haul iron ore trains from the mine at Ngwenya, near Ka Dake through Sidvokovo and the port at Laurenco Marques in Mozambique. In the 1970s, the line was operated by Henschel 4-8-2 locomotives loaned by the CFM. The grey line on the map represents the railway. Possibly the most scenic part was the valley of a thousand horseshoes situated near Nkanni, not too far from the capital Mbabane.

Swaziland to this day is a kingdom, and the King has wide powers. At the time of this story King Sobhuza II ruled the land. It is a very interesting country situated between South Africa and Mozambique who were enemies for a long time.

In 1974, I first encountered the Swaziland railway, with the A.R.E. tour group. At that time the locos were being sent to Mozambique for servicing, as the Portuguese were still in control of Lourenco Marques, the main servicing centre for the delightful 700 class 4-8-2 s of the C.F.M. Over a few days we managed to photograph 702 703 and 706 on ore trains and a few of the ex-Rhodesian railways 12B 4-8-2 s on hauler services. The locomotives at this stage were being looked after and were a delight to behold. At Sidvokodvo we saw 707 the only Geisel injector equipped 700 at loco.

swaziland railway steam loco africa steam train

Giesel Equipped 707 hauls an empty ore train through the “Valley Of A Thousand Horseshoes”

Second Swaziland Railway Visit

In 1977 on a return visit – what a shock .We encountered 705 at Ka Dake mine in a state reminiscent of the worst of B.R. loco condition (or N.S.W. 1972) ,The next day we drove into MBABANE , Capital of Swaziland ,nowhere near the railway ,but where the HQ of said railway was .

We met the manager of the locomotive department, a Canadian, who explained “Man, since the war, we ‘ve had to look after these locos as best we can at Sidvokodvo as we can’t get them looked after in Mozambique. Half of them haven’t had a boiler inspection in years. We have taken the brick arches out to try and make them steam. The quality of the coal is rubbish, and the new drivers since the Portuguese left are hopeless.!”

On the question of the timetable he said “If Mozambique sends us wagons, the ore loader is working, the locos can steam, the crews aren’t on strike, and the train controllers turn up for work, we can run trains.

matsapha swaziland railway steam train mozambique 700

706 at Matsapha 1974

That night in a display of sparks that would have done a wood burner proud 705 passed our campsite on the Mgwili curves. The coal that the fireman threw out would not burn on our campfire it appeared to be more rock than carbon.

We ventured forth next day to try and get some shots through the tunnels that were atop the game reserve, on a steep road . A young Rhino decided he didn’t like our intrusion and charged at our van ..luckily Mick Statham saw him coming, took evasive action and he just scraped the Kombi. A young lady was coming the other way in a Kombi and despite our hand signals didn’t understand and got rear ended by a ton of uptight young Rhino. Apparently the road was between him and his harem!

Swaziland railway sidvokodvo 1974 steam train

706 on a loaded ore train near Sidvokodvo 1974

While we didn’t get any trains at the tunnels we managed to photograph 701 703 705 708 over the next few days .702 and 706 were at Dunns boiler works at Witbank getting rebuilt after a head on at Nondvo.

Swaziland railway 702 steam locomotive africa

702 nears the summit of the valley in winter 1975

By 1980 the 700s had all worked themselves to bits and were replaced by South African 15ARs also in indescribably filthy state. How that railway kept running was a tribute to steam if you had treated a diesel like that it wouldn’t have lasted.

Happy Steaming

Additional Information


702 swaziland steam train horshoe iron ore mine

Another winter shot of 702. You had to be careful in this area as there were black Mamba and Boomslang snakes around – not to mention the Rhinos.

swaziland railway lusuttu river steam locomotive 700

702 Passes by the Lusuttu River rapids in May 1975

valley of a thousand horshoes swaziland mbabane steam train

Yet another shot in the valley

Alas the mine was closed in 1980 resulting in the abandonment of the line from Matshapa and the end of steam.

We leave you with this late afternoon shot with superb lighting.

swaziland railway africa steam train 706

702 with a nice smoke trail in the late afternoon


We had some great times in Swaziland, and it is such a shame to see the demise of the Swaziland Iron Ore Railway.


  1. Shand Jacobs says

    It is most appreciated that you were able to go to where you could see these gorgeous machines that the Mocambiquan used, and doubly so that you have made to the effort to share your photos with us. Many thanks – and a small request – did the 10 coupled CFM locos ever enter into Swaziland, and if so, were you ever able to record them ? Once again, thanks for your effort.

    • John Gaydon says

      Thanks for the comment Shand. The locos were from Mozambique in loan I think. Later they were returned and some ex South African locos were used for a while before the mine closed down.

    • Eric Gibbons says

      Re 2-10-2s in Swaziland. I visited Swaziland in October 72 with Dusty Durrant. Here is an extract from my notes of 15 October 1972: “Engines at Sidvokodvo were 2-10-2s and various types of 4-8-2s. 2-10-2 + 4-8-2 departed with up ore train in gloom after double 2-10-2s arrived from Lorenco Marques. Then 4-8-2 left for Kadake. Next trains were 10:08am 4-8-2 No.701 to Kadake and 10:30 double 2-10-2s for Lorenco Marques.” According to my notes I photographed the 10:30 train but light was terrible.

  2. Roger Griffiths says

    Hello John, a great set of pictures, to make me realise that I should have spent more time on the SR when I visited in October 1976! I have lost my records, so do you know please, what were the MLW works numbers for the 700 class 4-8-2? The only pointer I have is for 705 which I show as MLW 76125.1948. Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated – thanks.

    • John Gaydon says

      HI Roger,

      Thanks for the comment. I will see what I can find out for you. They were great times. Did you see any Black mambas or Rhinos while you were there? There were quite a few in the area at the time.

  3. Hi John, what a great site you’ve got here. I worked in Swaziland in the early 80’s and there was some talk of the Ka Dake line possibly reopening as a tourist line but it never happened. Would have been a superbly scenic run by the look of it. I never knew of the 700 class – what an impressive machine they were. I did manage to photo one rare freight working up to Matsapa hauled by a filthy 15AR though.

    • John Gaydon says

      Hi Iain, thanks for your input. I had a soft spot for those 700 class as they had a classic look about them. I left RSA in 1976, so I never saw a 15AR on the line. Great stuff catching one on film.

  4. Drummond Holman says

    I lived in Mhlambanyati and worked as town clerk Me and my children used to take long walks from the village and end up on the railway line at Mantabeni and stopped the train and we got a lift in end coach and ended up in the game reserve in Ezulweni where we got off and walked back to Mhlambanyati and enjoyed the trip my kids were Tyrone Fiona Roger.

  5. Keith Potter says

    This brings back happy memories of the time in the late 1970s when I was living in Swaziland.

    I lived in Nhlangano and one day when I was driving up to Manzini I saw something very unusual – a passenger train in the station at Sidvokodvo. Apparently it has brought a football team up from Maputo. It was steam-hauled.

    Steam was on its way out in South Africa by then, but I experienced it a couple of times – entirely by chance.

    The first time, I was travelling back to Piet Retief from Johannesburg, which, although only four or five hours by car, was an overnight journey on the train. We left Jhb in the evening behind an electric engine and I went peacefully to sleep in my couchette. In the morning, I woke up to a strange sound I hadn’t heard for years – a steam engine working hard on the front of the train. How much more enjoyable the rest of the journey was. The service to Piet retied is no more – almost all South Africa’s local train services went years ago.

    The second time, I was travelling to Port Elizabeth with a diesel engine on the front. Just as the sun was setting, engines were changed in Kimberley and, much to my surprise, a steam engine took over. I can still remember looking out of the window just as it was getting dark and seeing the glow and sparks from the engine; it was somehow a perfect evening sight. Once we were under way, the man with the chimes came along the corridor and it was off to the dining car for a proper SAR four-course dinner with wine.

  6. Alvin DuPont says

    My dad worked for Swaziland Railway from 1964 to 1980. I was born at Sidvokodvo in 1965. Dad maintained all the heavy equipment that repaired the railway lines and would take my younger brother and I with him to go and inspect machinery along the lines in the school holidays My favourite spot was Lubhukhu.

  7. Khabo Nkambule says

    Who were the first Swazi drivers of these locomotives…? My father worked as a steam engine driver from 1964… I wonder if anyone would have images of the first drivers, please


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