So let us talk today about Kolmanskop, the famous diamond mine, 10km away from Luderitz, which is located South West of the country.
The great diamond rush was mostly between 1908 and 1914. In 1912, Kolmanskop was producing a million carats a year, or 11.7% of the world total diamond production. The diamonds were small but of high quality.
The Germans shipped most of the equipment/material from Germany, in particular to build houses in Kolmanskop. There was a butcher, a baker, a post office, an ice factory, they had a little train that would deliver the ice and lemonade to the houses every morning.
Fresh water was brought by rail. They also had electricity, a police station (camels were used frequently for their patrols), one of the first X-Ray machines (for medicinal purposes and also to check that they did not swallow diamonds), a skittle alley.
European opera groups even came to perform. There were avant-garde for the time, and it must have been quite an eccentric life in the middle of the desert. There were about 300 Germans, 40 children and they employed 800 local Namibians who were living further away.
To have a feel of what life must have been back then, Marianne Coleman, who was a little girl at the time, and the daughter of a foreman at Kolmanskop, recalled:
“One of my early childhood memories is of labourers being sent out with empty jam jars, a small spade and a hand broom, returning later in the day with jars filled with diamonds.
We had a post office there, and that was our link to the outside world. Post was delivered late on Friday afternoons.
We did not have refrigerators but cooler chests. I remember the ice man doing his rounds delivering ice blocks every day.
The butcher was Mr. Zirkler, and the baker was Mr. Brechlin. Every morning on his way to work, father would drop off his daily order at the store, bakery, or butcher. Fresh bread or rolls, meat and other groceries were delivered before noon. Mr. Zirkler made the best smoked Vienna sausages you could imagine. In the store one could buy home made fudge and toffees. Behind the store was a playground for the children. There was a large workshop, a huge depot, a carpentry shop, offices and stables.
We had a painter from Germany who painted the insides of the houses with fabulous patterns and designs. We had a seawater swimming pool. The water was pumped all the way from Elizabeth Bay. The overflow water was used on the plant and for cleaning purposes. There were bathing huts around the pool, birthday parties were held there, and on Sundays, weather permitting, the band played and we all had a jolly time.
There was a primary school with a playground complete with swings and merry-go-round. At the top of a sand-dune hill was a reservoir which served a dual purpose. It provided the mining plant with water for the washing and treatment operations and was also used as a swimming pool by the residents of Kolmanskop. Sea water was pumped through a long pipeline from Elisabethbucht 28 kilometres away.
In 1910 they built a central power station in Luderitz to supply electricity to the diamond fields.
Housing, electricity and fuel were provided free by the company, which also maintained a well-built hospital. The hospital had one of the finest X-ray plants in Southern Africa.
The hospital also had its own wine cellar. The wine was moreover used medicinally. One of the two resident doctors Dr. Kraenzle, believed that patients recovered more speedily if they received some stimulation in the form of a little wine or Champagne.
In 1927 a magnificent new recreation centre was built where many functions and forms of entertainment were held. It had perfect acoustics, designed by an expert from Germany. There was also a gymnasium and film showings, a bowling alley, a casino and a theatre. Theatre groups, musicians and artists came regularly.
Working hours on the mine was nine hours every day for six days a week, with only special days like Easter or Christmas, New Year, etc, being given off. In the early days church services were held in the school building.
Wages were good and virtually everything was free, including company houses, milk deliveries and other fringe benefits.
It was difficult to keep a pet, but we had an ostrich which pulled a little sleigh over the sand. An ostrich is not a docile beast and I remember the terror from housewives as we careered along. The ostrich stopping every now and again to pinch and eat anything that it could find. Nevertheless, the ostrich and sleigh was used at Christmas time to bring father Christmas and some presents…”
Unfortunately, I have not found a picture of Marianne or information about her life afterwards.
Today Kolmanskop is a little treasure for photographers and history lovers.
Intensive mining depleted the area by the 1930s when new diamond fields were found further South. People left in droves, abandoning homes and possessions. By 1956 Kolmanskop was completely abandoned.
Today there are still some diamond mines but most of the production of diamonds is from marine extraction.
Namdeb Diamond Corporation (Pty) Limited is owned in equal shares by the Government of the Republic of Namibia and De Beers.
De Beers conduct marine-based diamond recovery around 120 to 140m below sea level in the Atlantic Ocean off the Namibian coast. They operate a fleet of 6 vessels, capable of exploring for and retrieving diamond-bearing materials from the seabed and processing them to a diamond-rich concentrate.
On De Beers website, it says that Namibia has the richest known marine diamond deposits in the world, estimated at more than 80 million carats.
If you fancy coming to Namibia and would like to bring some diamonds back home, only cut diamonds are legal.