Kolmanskop, Diamond Fields, Namibia

Kolmanskop, Namibia (circa 1920)
On the edge of the Namib Desert lies a town. It is an unlikely place for a town, with sand in every direction, except for one thing: diamonds.

The Lüderitzbucht-Keetmanshoop Railroad where the first diamond was found in 1908
While shoveling “drift sand” on a siding of a railway in the desert, Zacharias Lewala discovered a shiny stone. He took it to his inspector, August Stauch, who sent it away to be analyzed. When news came back that it was a diamond, Rauch got a prospecting license, quit his railway job, and began staking huge claims.

Kolmanskop School of 40 Children
Even in the early 1900’s news of these diamonds was soon out. Hundreds of prospectors, mostly German, flooded into the desert and a town sprang up on a hill named for a British transport driver named John Coleman who abandoned his wagon on a hill during a sand storm. It was called “Kolmannskuppe,” or Coleman’s Hill where his wagon stood as a landmark (although the town was built on another hill nearby).

The Casino, built in 1927
The town had an advanced hospital with the first X-Ray machine anywhere in Africa. It had a school, a theater, and even an ice factory, and the wealth the diamonds brought paid for all of it. These were what are called diamond fields, where the diamonds are on the surface. Because of the constant wind, the “miners” would often “mine” at night when the diamonds lying on the surface would glint in the moonlight.
The First World War interrupted mining, and even though it resumed after the war was over, the diamond fields were soon depleted, and by 1956 the town was abandoned for the much richer diamond fields on the coast.

“Nowadays” in Kolmanskop – christiaanbriebart/Flickr
One of the last remaining residents of the town wrote that one day the ice man did not show up and the theater didn’t open and tram operator didn’t come to work. Then everyone left. In 1980, the DeBeers Diamond Cartel established a museum there. Today, guided tours show houses filled with sand and a town being reclaimed by the desert.
That’s it, except to say that in 1913 the onshore Namibian diamond fields accounted for 13% of the world diamond production and these same fields have produced twenty-two tons of diamonds. (That is equal to one hundred million one carat diamonds.) So long, until next week.
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