It is fitting that the driest country in sub-Saharan Africa derives its name from the Namib desert – considered the oldest desert in the world. Namibia is of course primarily a large desert and semi-desert plateau with a long and often terrible colonial history attached to it. However, history it does have, and thanks to its historic ties to South Africa and of course the shared border, many South Africans find themselves heading out there as tourists at least once in their lifetime.
One of the more interesting attractions in Namibia lies just 10 km inlands from Luderitz, namely the ghost town of Kolmanskop – a sand engulfed, long abandoned, former German diamond-mining settlement.
As the story goes, before the railway was built, a driver named Johnny Coleman transported goods from Keetmanshoop to Lüderitz by ox wagon. During a fierce sandstorm he was forced to abandon his ox wagon on the small incline on the main road from where Kolmanskop can be seen. It stood there for a while, giving rise to the name Colemanshuegel, which subsequently became Kolmanskop.
Kolmanskop however only became a place of note when a diamond was discovered there in 1908 by a worker Zacharias Lewala, prompting the almost overnight emptying of Luderitz in favour of setting up a bustling little diamond mining settlement in the area!
Driven by the enormous wealth of the first diamond miners, the residents (about 350 German colonialists and 800 Owambo contract workers) built the village in the architectural style of a German town, with amenities and institutions including a hospital, ballroom, power station, school, skittle-alley, theatre and sport-hall, casino, and an ice factory. Notably, the first x-ray-station in the southern hemisphere, as well as the first tram in Africa are all a claim to fame for Kolmanskop.
However, the town rapidly declined just after World War I, partly due to the exhaustion of the diamond-field, and partly due to the opening of more lucrative diamond mining operations further down south at Oranjemund.
And so, by 1956 the town became a completely abandoned ghost town, left to be slowly engulfed by the ever shifting sands of the Namib desert.
Fortunately, in 1980 this sparkling piece of Namibia’s history was saved by the intervention of CDM (today’s Namdeb – A Namibia De Beers Partnership) who restored several of the buildings, installed a museum and opened the area as a tourist attraction.
In other words, prepare yourself from some strikingly eerie imagery if you should ever make you way down there!
(Of course, if actually going to such a sandy place as Namibia to get some sort of a return doesn’t seem like such a pleasant idea in the first place, you could always just play around with a spot of foreign direct investment instead. Which coincidentally, Namibian attorney Henner Diekmann (on LinkedIn) knows more than just a little about…)