Interpretations of the structural/tectonic evolution of the Barberton Greenstone Belt (BGB) and its surrounding granitoid rocks remain controversial, with proponents for both horizontal thrust-accretion (plate tectonic) and partial convective overturn (vertical tectonic) models. Here, an area of complex folds that was used to support the operation of plate tectonic-derived gliding and overthrust nappe tectonics is re-investigated in detail and placed within the broader structural development of the BGB and surrounding granitoid domains via a re-analysis of structures, and geochronological, stratigraphic and metamorphic data across the whole of this important geological terrain.
The results of detailed field mapping show that the complex folds, which occur on the northern limb of the 20 km wavelength, vertically plunging, Onverwacht Anticline, do not represent a re-folded, originally recumbent, isoclinal fold, as previously interpreted. Instead, the folds represent a moderately shallow east-plunging fold train that formed from a single episode of deformation. Fold asymmetry is consistent with formation during originally north-side-up reverse shear on bounding faults, consistent with the offset direction required to explain the fault-repeated slices of Mendon Formation + Fig Tree Group rocks that uniquely occur across the northern limb of the Onverwacht Anticline.
More broadly, a review of the BGB and surrounding granitoid rocks show that formation was likely through two discrete, ~120 Ma long, episodes of mantle upwelling, or plume, magmatism, each of which led to crustal melting and partial convective overturn (PCO), a tectonic mechanism that arises from the gravity-driven interaction between dense, upper crustal greenstones and partially melted, more buoyant, granitoid-dominated middle crust.
The first mantle upwelling episode, at 3 530 to 3 410 Ma, commenced with long-lived eruption of ultramafic-mafic lavas of the Sandspruit, Theespruit, Komati, and lower Hooggenoeg formations (3 530 to 3 470 Ma). Heat from this magmatic event gave rise to partial melting of the crust that, combined with fractionation of mafic magma chambers produced widespread felsic magmatism at 3 470 to 3 410 Ma (upper Hooggenoeg Formation and Buck Reef Chert), the latter parts of which were accompanied by the formation of D1 dome-and-keel structures via PCO in deeper-levels of the crust represented by the Stolzburg Domain in the far southwest part of the belt.
The second mantle upwelling, or plume, episode commenced at 3 334 to 3 215 Ma with the eruption of ultramafic-mafic lavas of the Kromberg, Mendon and Weltevreden formations. Heat from this magmatic event gave rise to renewed partial melting of the crust that, combined with fractionation of mafic magma chambers, produced widespread felsic magmatism at 3 290 to 3 215 Ma. A second, longer-lived and more complex, multi-stage episode of PCO (D2-D4) accompanied deposition of the Fig Tree and Moodies groups from 3 250 to 3 215 Ma. Late D5 deformation accompanied emplacement of the Mpulizi and Piggs Peak batholiths at ca. 3.01 Ga, as previously identified.
The Inyoka and Kromberg faults, which separate domains with distinct structural styles, represent neither terrane boundaries nor suture zones, but rather axial faults that separate deformed but generally inward-facing greenstone panels that sank inwards off rising granitoid domains that surround the BGB.