The Colenso fault is a major northwest to southeast trending fault zone in the Pan-African Saldania Belt of the Western Cape Province in South Africa that is spatially closely associated with granitoids of the ~550 to 510 Ma Cape Granite Suite. Most of these granites were previously considered to be largely post-tectonic intrusions, but structural data presented in this study demonstrate the synkinematic emplacement of granitoids into, and along, the Colenso Fault. The kinematic analyses of shear zones and granite fabrics together with previously published and new geochronological data are combined to provide constraints on the complex kinematic history of the fault and the tectonic evolution of the hitherto poorly understood Saldania Belt.

Early, strongly gneissose granitoids of the composite Darling batholith (547 ± 6 Ma) were emplaced during sinistral strike-slip movement along the Colenso fault. Both the timing of emplacement and penetrative deformation of the Darling batholith suggest an intrusion of the pluton during the main Pan-African collisional event in the Saldania Belt. The younger Trekoskraal granite intrudes synkinematically into dextral strike-slip faults related to deformation along the Colenso fault. Single-zircon ages from synkinematic aplites constrain the timing of dextral strike-slip shearing to 539 ± 4 Ma. The emplacement of the late-kinematic Cape Columbine granite during dextral strike-slip faulting indicates that dextral strike-slip kinematics along the Colenso fault continued at least until ~520 Ma.

These results point to a reversal of strike-slip motion along the Colenso fault at ~540 Ma that coincides with the onset of uplift of rocks of the Saldania Belt. The final exhumation of the belt at ~515 to 520 Ma is marked by the near-surface emplacement of the last phases of the Cape Granite Suite, related subaerial volcanism, sedimentation of the coarse-clastic, fault-bounded Klipheuwel Group, and the overlying fluvial to shallow-marine sequence of the Mid-Cambrian Cape Supergroup. The temporal and spatial overlap between igneous activity and rift-type sedimentation indicates that a substantial part of the Cape Granite Suite was emplaced in an overall transtensional and/or extensional setting. During this time, the voluminous plutonism of the Cape Granite Suite most likely represented a significant heat input that also contributed to a thermal weakening of the crust. In view of the Early Paleozoic extensional setting suggested here, we interpret Ar-Ar mineral ages of ~500 Ma and post-orogenic plutonism that are widely documented from Pan-African belts throughout southwestern Africa to reflect a thermal event related to crustal thinning and associated mantle upwelling that follows the main phase of Pan-African collisional tectonics.

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