Diamonds so plentiful you could pluck them by the fistful off the open ground. And then they were gone. People lived and worked here, but the wind and sand have swept them away too. This is Kolmanskop, Namibia’s ghost town.
Now just the bones of some of the buildings remain, haunted by wind and sand that threaten to reduce them to nothing.
Kolmanskop’s story started in spring 1908 when Zacharias Lewala, a railway worker on the line between Lüderitz and Keetmanshoop, picked up a shiny stone and showed it to his boss, August Stauch.
A story tells how the sneaky Stauch first bought up pockets of land in the area and only then told the German government diamonds had been discovered. He became a millionaire overnight but, as was the way back then, nothing much changed for Zacharias Lewala.
Our guide Netley Beukes told us that by 1914, five million carats – that’s a staggering ton of diamonds – had been found here. ‘People used to just lie on their tummies and pick them up off the ground with tweezers. The diamond workers’ mouths were usually gagged against the wind but also so they couldn’t slip a few in,’ she said.
A person could find an average of 400 to 500 carats of diamonds a day. They weren’t big – about the size of a match head – but they certainly were plentiful.
Naturally creative, the workers soon hatched a cunning plan: they would shave their heads months before the end of their contracts, make small incisions in the scalp with a blade and ‘post’ match-head size diamonds into them. The incisions would heal and the men’s hair would grow to cover the scene of the crime. When they got back to Owamboland they simply shaved the head again, reopened the cuts and hey presto, instant wealth.
The installation at Kolmanskop of the first x-ray machine in southern Africa put a stop to all that.
Today this ghost town in the far southwest of Namibia is popular with photographers who find its ruins sad but soulful and flock to see the crumbling buildings that were once so fine. There may not be real ghosts, but it's a haunting place that will touch your heart.
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