A story about the picturesque Swaziland Steam Railway
By Dennis Mitchell
All photos not credited are taken by the author.
Map Of The Swaziland Railway
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
We had some great times in Swaziland, and it is such a shame to see the demise of the Swaziland Iron Ore Railway.