Kolmanskuppe diamonds: a journey into the past
It is hard to believe that the sand covered town of Kolmanskuppe, close to the port of Lüderitz in the south of Namibia, was once a thriving mining town. In fact, in 1908 it was even referred to in many circles as the “richest town on earth.”
Yesterday WhyAfrica headed to the site of the once wealthy town which has partly been reclaimed by an ever-encroaching Namib desert.
The following is an extract from the leaflet “Kolmanskuppe: A journey into the past” published by Lüderitzbuchter Museum for more background about this fascinating part of Namibia’s history.
“In 1908 the first diamond was found in the region, when a railway worker called Zacharias Lewala handed a stone, which he picked up, to the railway inspector August Stauch. Soon after, Stauch obtained mining rights and staked his claims. This resulted in a diamond rush and Kolmanskuppe grew into a town.
Stauch was able to raise an investment of 124,000 Pound Sterling from investors based in Cape Town. This enabled him to establish Colemanskop Diamond Mines Ltd, which mined the Charlottental area north of the railway line.
Kolmanskuppe itself came into being as a hub of Stauch’s second company, the Koloniale Bergbaugesellschaft zu Berlin (KBG – 7100ha). Like Colemanskop Diamond Mines Ltd, KBG received its mining licence on 8 September 1908.
More than 1000kg of diamonds (about 5 million carat) were processed in this region before World War 1. In 1911 the entire plant, as well as the private houses, were furnished with electricity. The turbine plant operated on coal gas. Water was initially imported from Cape Town by ship and cost 5 pfennig while a litre of beer cost 10 pfennig. Today Lüderitz gets its water from fossil reserves of the Koichab, situated in the Namib desert between Aus and Lüderitz. The water, at a depth of 18 meters, is pumped from five boreholes and piped to town.
The evolution and expansion of the industry is demonstrated by the fact that the KBG’s 1916 daily processing capability of 500m3 of ore (loose sand containing diamonds) had been expanded to 2000m3 by 1930.
World War and trade breakdown
World War 1 almost caused the diamond industry to collapse. Sir Ernest Oppenheimer took advantage of the diamond trade breakdown, bought the major German companies, and established Consolidated Diamond Mines (CDM). The new proprietors, Anglo American, kept operations going without any interruptions and Leonard Kolle maintained his position as manager.
Geologists discovered new diamond fields along the northern coast of the Orange River mouth in 1927. The diamonds found here were substantially larger than those at Kolmanskuppe. In 1936 the mine at Oranjemund started operating and the processing plant in Kolmanskuppe ceased operations. A few years later, in 1944, the offices were also moved to Oranjemund and the last inhabitants left. Kolmanskuppe was transformed into a ghost town.”
Today, however, diamond mining continues, albeit on a different scale. Mining at Elizabeth Bay, about 30km south of Lüderitz has ramped up after it was badly affected by Covid-19. Operations at Elizabeth Bay started in 1911 but serious mining only started much later.
Although the diamonds found at Elizabeth Bay were larger than those found at Kolmanskuppe (four to five stones to the carat as opposed to six) the erratic grade and distribution of the ore deposit at Elizabeth Bay required a much larger operation. With neither the technical know-how nor the requisite capital available, the project was initially put on the back burner. But in 1923 the time to unlock the riches of Elizabeth Bay was deemed to have arrived. Elizabeth bay is our next stop on the WhyAfrica Southern Africa Road Trip 2022.
The WhyAfrica Southern Africa Overland Road Trip will take us through five countries in 44 days. During this time, we will drive more than 9700km on the good roads, the bad roads, dirt roads and tarred roads, to visit close to 30 projects in the mining, agriculture, energy, infrastructure, tourism, conservation, and development sectors.
This trip is made possible by:
Leon Louw is the founder and editor of WhyAfrica. He specialises in natural resources and African affairs.
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