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Bushveld Complex - Overview of Teconics, Geology and Mineralisation
South Africa
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The composite Rooiberg-Bushveld Complex is located in northern South Africa to the north of Johannesburg and Pretoria,

The complex was emplaced into and over the Mesoarchaean to Palaeoproterozoic Kaapvaal craton, close to its northern margin, at 2.05 Ga.

The Kaapvaal craton comprises a Palaeo- to Mesoarchaean granite-greenstone basement, overlain by a thick stratified pile of late Mesoarchaean to early Palaeoproterozoic mafic volcanic and intracratonic sedimentary rocks. These include the ~8 km thick clastic successions of the Mesoarchaean Dominion Group and Witwatersrand Supergroup, the ~5 km of mafic volcanic rocks that constitute the Neoarchaean Ventersdorp Supergroup and the 15 km late Neoarchaean to early Palaeoproterozoic (2.64 to 2.05 Ga), Transvaal Supergroup, composed of intracratonic clastic, chemical (BIFs) and carbonatic sedimentary and lesser volcanic rocks. This pile remained relatively undeformed, because by the late Mesoarchaean, the craton was sufficiently rigid (stabilised) to retard the development of the unstable granite-greenstone tectonics seen at the same period on many other cratonic nuclei (Eglington and Armstrong, 2004).

The Transvaal Supergroup is unconformably overlain by the Rooiberg Group (sometimes included as the uppermost volcanic unit of the Transvaal Supergroup; e.g., Button, 1986). This group is almost entirely composed of volcanic rocks that total up to 3.5 km in thickness and are preserved over >50 000 km2, although they are estimated to have originally covered an oval-shaped 450 x 350 km (>110 000 km2) area (Kinnaird, 2005). The Rooiberg Group occurs directly over the centre of, and forms the intruded roof to the Bushveld Complex. It has been subdivided into four parts, as follows:
i). Dullstroom Formation, comprising at least three compositional groups, low- and high-Ti mafic to intermediate units, and high-Mg felsic units;
ii). Damwal Formation, marking the last high-Mg felsites and the first sedimentary intercalations and pyroclastics, accompanied by high-Fe, Ti, P volcanics, overlain by dacites and rhyolites;
iii). and iv). Kwaggasnek and Schrikkloof Formations, dominated by dacitic pyroclastics, rare rhyolites flows and intercalated sedimentary horizons. Precise U-Pb zircon dating of Kwaggasnek Formation felsites gives an age of 2059.9±1 Ma, consistently younger than the main layered mafic stage of the Bushveld Complex (zircons from the Merensky Reef and from late stage pegmatoids give ages of 2055.3±1.2 Ma and 2056.3±0.7 Ma respectively; Armstrong et al., 2010). The Rooiberg Group is conformably overlain by the Loskop formation clastic sediments with minor volcanic intercalations. Clastic sediments in this latter unit include eroded clasts of the main mafic stage of the Bushveld Complex (Schweitzer et al., 1995; Kinnaird, 2005).

Widespread, but not voluminous, 2061.8±5.5 Ma granophyre masses of the Rashoop Granophyre Suite are found below the Rooiberg Group, but above the layered mafic phases of the Bushveld complex which it predates (Kinnaird, 2005).

The main mafic to ultramafic phase of the Bushveld Complex, the 7 to 8 km thick Rustenburg Layered Suite (RLS), was emplaced as a series of sub-concordant sills along the unconformable contact between the top of the Transvaal Supergroup and the base of the Rooiberg Group, with the floor being the upper sections of the Pretoria Group. The RLS dips to the north, and covers an area of ~65 000 km
2, elongated east-west parallel to the margin of the craton. It was formed in five chambers that were most likely connected with each other and with a sixth at depth. The RLS was fed by repeated injections of magma from depth, changing composition with time, and has a complex-wide "stratigraphic layering", including, from the base, the:
The Rustenburg Layered Suite has been subdivided as follows, from the base:
Marginal Zone - composed several hundreds of metres of quenched to fine-grained norite and gabbronorite with variable proportions of accessory clinopyroxene, quartz, biotite and hornblende, indicating magma contamination from the underlying metasediments. This unit is not always present.
Lower Zone - predominantly consists of interlayered harzburgite, dunite and orthopyroxenite, with rare plagioclase present as a cumulate phase (Cameron 1978; Teigler and Eales 1996). Chromite comprises <1 modal %, irrespective of lithology. It has pronounced lateral variation in thickness and lithology and may be >1 km thick in some trough structures, but it is thinner or absent above swells between those troughs (Grobler, et al., 2019).
Critical Zone, which is up to 1400 m thick and subdivided into lower and upper zones.
  The Lower Critical Zone is 700 to 800 m thick, and is predominantly composed of orthopyroxenite, containing nine major chromitite seams (Lower Group/LG 1 to 7 and Middle Group/MG 1 and 2). The seams have been correlated, across much of the Western and Eastern Bushveld Complex (Cousins and Feringa 1964; Teigler and Eales 1996), although their thicknesses are highly variable. The base of the Lower Critical Zone has been defined either where there is a significant increase in intercumulus plagioclase (from 2 to 6 %; Cameron 1978), or ~ 200 m lower, at the top of the main olivine-rich interval (Teigler and Eales 1996).
  Upper Critical Zone is ~500 m thick, and is defined by the first occurrence of anorthosite which forms a laterally continuous, 1 to 3 m thick layer. Whilst further anorthosite layers are found in the upper portion of the zone, the dominant lithologies are orthopyroxenite (~70 %) and norite (~25 %) (Teigler and Eales 1996). Olivine-bearing harzburgite and troctolite comprise <1% of the zone and are largely restricted to the northwestern Bushveld (Viljoen et al., 1986; Eales et al., 1988; Maier and Eales 1997) where they form part of the Merensky and Pseudo Reefs. These reefs are composed of tens of cm to metre thick coarse-grained to pegmatoidal orthocumulate layers. As well as abundant disseminated chromite, the Upper Critical Zone contains four to five major chromitite seams, including Middle Group/MG 3 and 4 and Upper Group/UG 1 to 3, and tens of minor seams and stringers including those bracketing the Merensky Reef pegmatoid. The so-called cyclic units are particularly typical of the Upper Critical Zone (Cameron 1982; Eales et al., 1986, 1988, 1990). These are generally characterised by basal chromitite, overlain by harzburgite and/or pyroxenite, norite and then anorthosite. The thicknesses of the units range between a few cm to several hundred metres (Eales et al., 1990). PGE mineralisation can be concentrated in the basal ultramafic portions of many of these cyclic units, particularly in the Merensky Reef and UG2 (Upper Group 2) chromitite, the main PGE reefs in the Bushveld Complex, as well as the subeconomic Pseudo and Bastard reefs. The Merensky Reef and UG2 reefs range on average from 0.4 to 1.5 m in thickness with contained PGE (Pt, Pd, Rh, Au) contents typically ranging from 4 to 10 g/t (Cawthorn, 2005)
Main Zone, which is up to 2800 m this, and is predominantly composed of fairly massive norite and gabbronorite, typically containing 10 to 30% orthopyroxene, 10 to 20 % clinopyroxene and ~50% plagioclase, with occasional anorthosite and pyroxenite bands. Distinct visible layering is rare.
Upper Zone, which is 1 to 2 km thick, and is composed of cyclic units of magnetitite, gabbronorite, anorthosite and, in the uppermost portions of the sequence, ferrodiorite (Molyneux 1970; Von Gruenewaldt 1970). As many as 26 magnetite layers are known on the eastern and western limbs (Cawthorn and Molyneux 1986; Tegner et al., 2006), each from a few cm to >10 m thick (e.g., magnetite layer 21).

The Rustenburg Layered Suite occurs in five discrete lobes or limbs, namely the:
i). Western Limb/Lobe, which extends from near Pretoria westwards to Rustenburg and around the Pilanesberg alkaline complex, to and along the southern flank of the Makoppa Dome of the Archaean granitiods and gneisses;
ii). South-eastern or Bethal Lobe, which is largely covered by Mesozoic rocks;
iii). Eastern Lobe, that extends in a northwards arc west of Belfast up to Atok;
iv). Far Western Lobe to the west of the Western Lobe. v). Northern Lobe that extends from south of Mokopane to Villa Nora in the north. This lobe is separated from the rest of the Complex by the regional Thabazimbi-Murchison Lineament, and is characterised by a reduced stratigraphic succession within the Rustenburg Layered Suite. For detail, see the geological description in the Platreef/Flatreef record.

In the eastern limb of the complex, the Upper Zone of the RLS is characterised by banded gabbros with up to 25 layers of cumulate, massive and net-textured, titaniferous and vanadiferous magnetite, the thickest being 7 m, while the most consistent averages 2 m. Each layer has a sharp base and gradational upper margin (Kinnaird, 2005; Cawthorn and Molyneux, 1986). Sections of the Upper zone are also cut by magnetite breccia pipes of similar composition to the layers, reflecting upward expulsion of magnetite from the cumulate layers (Cawthorn and Molyneux, 1986).

The final phase of the Bushveld Complex is the 1.5 to 3.5 km thick, sheeted Lebowa Granite Suite (LGS) that has an areal extent of 30 000 km
2, and with ages of 2054±2 Ma (Armstrong et al., 2010) postdates the RLS. The granite underlies the older, less dense Rooiberg Group and Rashoop Granophyre Suite, but overlies the denser RLS, through which feeder dykes are mapped. Wilson et al. (2000) suggest foliations and lineations are horizontal, reflecting vertical host-rock compression and horizontal magma flow during emplacement, with space being created for the granites by roof uplift and floor depression. They are predominantly alkali feldspar granites with iron-rich ferromagnesian minerals and have been categorised as A-type (Kleeman and Twist, 1989).

Bushveld Complex

All of the data available suggests the whole complex, including the Rooiberg Group volcanic rocks, associated granophyres, A-type granites of the LGS, and the layered ultramafic complex of the RLS, was emplaced over a period of only 3 to 5 m.y. (Kinnaird, 2005; Armstrong et al., 2010). Kinnaird, 2005 discusses a range of opinion on the formation of the Bushveld Complex, but favours the Kaapvaal craton having undergone northeast-southwest extension and strike-slip reactivation. This is suggested by the lack of pre-Bushveld deformation of the Transvaal Supergroup and its preservation over large parts of the craton, as well as the generation of A-type granites, usually associated with crustal extension. In addition, the preservation of the volcanic and shallow-level intrusive rocks of the Bushveld Complex indicates that the significant magmatic thickening related to the Bushveld event must have been compensated by coeval crustal thinning (Gibson and Stevens, 1998). However, as Late Proterozoic to Cretaceous diamondiferous kimberlites in the adjacent Kaapvaal contain a ~3.1 Ga diamond population (Richardson et al., 1984; Shirey et al., 2003), a lithospheric root in excess of 140 km must have existed beneath the craton in the Archaean and survived the Bushveld event (Gibson and Stevens, 1998). Gibson and Stevens (1998) suggest from a study of the deep section of the crust exposed by the 2.02 Ga (post-Bushveld) Vredefort Impact Structure, that the metamorphic profile revealed is consistent with heating by craton-wide intraplating of mantle-derived magmas when a mantle plume head reached the base of the Kaapvaal lithosphere at ~2.06 Ga and underwent partial decompression melting.

The heat released from these magmas resulted in regional metamorphism of the adjacent crust, and anatexis of the deeper, high-grade sections of this metamorphosed terrane to produced the magmas that rose to form the felsic volcanic rocks of the Rooiberg Group, and high-level granophyre intrusions. After the anatectic Rooiberg Group volcanic and Rashoop Granophyre intrusive rocks were emplaced, pulses of progressively fractionated and contaminated mafic to ultramafic magmas from the deep chamber were ejected and rose to be ponded beneath the less dense felsites. At a later stage, further anatectic felsic magma from the wall rocks of the deeper chamber produced the LGS granites, rising though the denser RLS, to be emplaced at their level of buoyancy immediately below the Rooiberg felsites.


The dominant mineralisation styles of the Bushveld Complex are PGE and Chromite hosted by the Upper Critical Zone of the Rustenburg Layered Suite in the chromitite seams and the Merensky Reef and Platreef, distributed as outlined in the Rustenburg Layered Suite section above. For a description of the chromitite reefs mined in the Complex, see the Samancor Western Chrome Mines record. In addition, vanadium-iron deposits were formed in the magnetite layers within the Main Magnetite Layer of the Upper Zone of the Complex, as described in the Rhovan and Mapochs records.

Two main PGE deposit types have been defined within the Bushveld Complex, namely:
Merensky reef-style - narrow, to a maximum of 1 m thick layers (reefs) concordant to magmatic layering, that occur towards the top of the Upper Critical Zone, typically 2 km above the base of the intrusion, mainly found in the Western and Eastern lobes. These narrow zones have been the principal source of PGE minerals, although more recently, wider zones with more irregular footwall contacts have been mined. These are known as potholes. For a description of the Merensky Reef mineralisation and potholes, see the Impala Platinum and the Rustenburg Section
Platreef-type - contact-style mineralisation at the base of the intrusion, restricted to the Northern Limb of the Bushveld Complex. In general, the Platreef is composed of a variably layered, composite norite–pyroxenite–harzburgite intrusion that lies at or near the base of the Bushveld Complex. It is usually in contact with and encloses blocks and xenoliths of metasedimentary and granitic floor rocks. For a detailed description of Platreef mineralisation and setting see the Platreef/Flatreef record. McDonald and Holwell (2011) summarised the characteristics of the Platreef as follows:   - Stratigraphic relationships suggest it may be an equivalent of the interval that embraces the Merensky and UG2 reefs elsewhere in the Complex;
  - The Platreef comprises a complex of sills intruded into Archaean basement granite-gneiss, Palaeoproterozoic Transvaal Supergroup sedimentary rocks and/or the pre-Platreef Lower Zone intrusions of the Bushveld Complex.
  - The overlying Main Zone gabbronorites are intruded into solidified and deformed Platreef, and as such postdates Platreef mineralisation.
  - The mineral chemistry, bulk geochemistry and Sr, Nd, and Os isotope geochemistry of the Platreef are mostly consistent with an ultramafic component as in the Critical or Lower zones south of the Thabazimbi-Murchison Lineament.
  - Platreef εNd values and
187Os/188Os initial isotope ratios overlap with the Merensky Reef but not the Upper Critical Zone rocks.
  - Where the Platreef intruded the pyrite-rich shales of the lower Pretoria Group, conventional and mass-independent S isotopes imply a primary mantle source of S, overprinted by the addition of local crustal S. Assimilation of S is viewed as a modifying process, not as the primary trigger for mineralisation.
McDonald and Holwell (2011) postulated two emplacement models to explain the Platreef mineralisation:
 i). Platreef sulphides may have been derived from the same magma that formed the Merensky Reef in the central part of each Bushveld limb and which were injected up and out along intrusion walls as the chamber expanded.
 ii). Alternatively, sulphides may have formed in pre-Platreef staging chambers of the Lower Zone intrusions where they were upgraded by repeated interactions with batches of Lower Zone magma. The sulphides were subsequently expelled as a crystal-sulphide mush by an early pulse of Main Zone magma that broke into and spread through the earlier Lower Zone magma chambers.

Individual deposits and clusters of deposits are described separately and include:
• The Amandelbult and Union Section PGE deposits along the northwestern segment on the north-western margin of the Western Lobe of the complex, ~80 to 100 km north of Rustenberg and 40 to 60 km south of Thabazimbi.
• The Impala Platinum operation is distributed over an interval of ~30 km from Rustenburg in the south, to the margin of the younger Pilanesberg Intrusive Complex to the north, and comprises a complex of at least 15 shafts, including the early Bafokeng North, Bafokeng South, Wildebeestfontein South and Wildebeestfontein North mines.
• The Kroondal and Marikana platinum mines are located on the south-western and southern limb of the western lobe of the Bushveld Complex, immediate NE and east of the town of Rustenburg in the Northwest Province of South Africa.
• The Rustenburg Section PGE operations, which comprise 5 adjacent mines Bathopele, Khomanani, Thembelani, Khuseleka and Siphumelele are located to the east of the town of Rustenburg, and exploit ores from both the Merensky and UG2 Reefs in the Critical Zone in the southwestern section of the Western Lobe of the Bushveld Complex.
• The Samancor Western Chrome Mines deposits include the Elandsdrift open pit and the two underground mines, Waterkloof-Millsell and Mooinooi, centred around 40 km east of Rustenburg, distributed over much of a 50 km stretch of the southern rim of the Western Lobe of the Bushveld Complex.
• The Western Platinum or Marikana group of PGE mines, which includes Karee, Middelkraal, Westerns, Easterns and Marikana open-pit are distributed over a strike length of ~27 km, ~20 km to the east of Rustenberg on the southern margin of the Western Lobe of the Bushveld Complex.
• The Winterveld, Montrose, Groothoek and Maandagshoek chromite deposits are located on the Eastern Limb of the Bushveld Complex, NNW and west of Steelpoort.
• The Bokoni (formerly Lebowa and previously Atok) PGE deposit is located on the northen tip of the Eastern Limb of the complex, ~50 km NNW of Steelpoort, and the contiguous Ga-Phasha, Twickenham, Marula and Modikwa PGE deposits are located over an interval of ~50 km to the SSE of Bokoni, all on the eastern limb of the host Rustenburg Layered Suite. Following a gap ~10 km, Two Rivers, Mototola, Booysendal and Everest PGE deposits follow the eastern limb due south over an interval of ~35 km.
• The historic Grasvally and Zoetveld chromite deposits are located towards the southern termination of the Northern Lobe of the complex, 16 km south of the Mogalakwena (previously Potgeitersrus) platinum mine at Mokopane.
• The Platreef/Flatreef PGE deposit is developed within the Platreef on the Northern Limb of the Bushveld Complex, ~10 km NNW of the centre of the town of Mokopane,
• The Mogalakwena (formerly the Potgietersrust Platinums) PGE mine, exploits the Platreef on the Northern Limb of the complex, ~20 km NNW of the town of Mokopane.
• The Waterberg Project PGE, Au resource on the Northern Limb of the complex, ~85 km north of the town of Mokopane and north of the Northern Limb exposure.
• The Zwartkop and Groot-Marico chromite deposits are located on the Western and Far Western Lobes of the 2050 Ma Bushveld Complex.
• The Mapochs iron-vanadium mine is located near the eastern margin of the Eastern Lobe of the Bushveld Complex, near its southern limit, some 140 km SSE of Mokopane, hosted by the Main Magnetite Layer within the Upper Zone of the Bushveld Complex.
• The Rhovan iron-vanadium mine is located ~35 km ENE of Rustenburg, on the southern margin of the Western Lobe of the Bushveld Complex.

Other mineralisation associated with the Bushveld Complex includes, tin deposits, most likely associated with the Rooiberg Group volcanic sequences as at Rooiberg to the NW of the Western Lobe and with alkali feldspar granites of the Lebowa Granite Suite at Zaaiplaats on the eastern margin of the Northern Lobe.
Elsewhere, fluorite and iron mineralisation are mined at Vergenoeg, associated with a cross-cutting magnetite pipe cutting the Rooiberg felsic volcanic rocks, close to the centre of the four lobes in the core of the Bushveld Complex.

Satellite Intrusions

Some 75 km to the east of the south-eastern lobe of the main Bushveld Complex, an 8 x 1 km and 650 m thick, NW-SE trending, flat lying, poorly layered, sill like, 2025 Ma mafic body of harzburgite, gabbro, pyroxenite and gabbro-norite, the Uitkomst Complex, cuts Archaean basement and hosts the Nkomati massive sulphide Ni-Cu-Co-PGE deposit and the larger surrounding lower grade disseminated mineralisation of the same elements. The Uitkomst Complex is believed to be broadly coeval with, and related to, the Bushveld Complex.

In the north, some 150 km to the east of the eastern lobe of the Bushveld Complex, the 2060 Ma Phalaborwa (Palabora) Complex, a pipe-like 7 x 3 km mainly pyroxenite is exposed, which would appear to be part of the larger Bushveld event. This intrusion contains much smaller cores of carbonatite which host large reserves of economic magnetite-copper mineralisation at the Palabora deposit, and the Foskor phosphate deposit.

The most recent source geological information used to prepare this decription was dated: 2019.     Record last updated: 22/7/2019
This description is a summary from published sources, the chief of which are listed below.
© Copyright Porter GeoConsultancy Pty Ltd.   Unauthorised copying, reproduction, storage or dissemination prohibited.

  References & Additional Information
   Selected References:
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Yudovskaya, M.A, Kinnaird, J.A., Grobler, D.F., Costin, G., Abramova, V.D., Dunnett, T. and Barnes, S.J.,   2017 - Zonation of Merensky-Style Platinum-Group Element Mineralization in Turfspruit Thick Reef Facies (Northern Limb of the Bushveld Complex) : in    Econ. Geol.   v.112, pp. 1333-1365.
Yudovskaya, M.A., Costin, G., Sluzhenikin, S.F., Kinnaird, J.A., Ueckermann, H., Abramova, V.D. and Grobler, D.F.,  2021 - Hybrid norite and the fate of argillaceous to anhydritic shales assimilated by Bushveld melts: in    Mineralium Deposita   v.56, pp. 73-90.
Yudovskaya, M.A., Kinnaird, J., Costin, G., McCreesh, M., Shilovskikh, V., Kovalchuk, E. and Kuzmin, D.,  2022 - Formation of Spinel-Orthopyroxene Symplectites by Reactive Melt Flow: Examples from the Northern Bushveld Complex and Implications for Mineralization in Layered Intrusions: in    Econ. Geol.   v.117, pp. 1935-1960. https://doi.org/10.5382/econgeo.4938.
Zhou, H., Trumbull, R.B., Veksler, I.V. and Bachmann, K.,  2023 - The effects of iron-rich ultramafic pegmatite on the composition and mineralogy of the UG2 chromitite: a case study in the western Bushveld Complex, South Africa.: in    Mineralium Deposita   v.58, pp. 1005-1021.

Porter GeoConsultancy Pty Ltd (PorterGeo) provides access to this database at no charge.   It is largely based on scientific papers and reports in the public domain, and was current when the sources consulted were published.   While PorterGeo endeavour to ensure the information was accurate at the time of compilation and subsequent updating, PorterGeo, its employees and servants:   i). do not warrant, or make any representation regarding the use, or results of the use of the information contained herein as to its correctness, accuracy, currency, or otherwise; and   ii). expressly disclaim all liability or responsibility to any person using the information or conclusions contained herein.

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