In 1908, Luederitz was plunged into diamond fever. The railway worker Zacharias Lewala had found a strangely sparkling stone in the sand which he showed his foreman August Stauch. Soon it was confirmed that it was indeed a diamond.
Although Stauch at first managed to keep the find a secret, soon people rushed into the Namib Desert hoping to make an easy fortune A diamond protection zone was proclaimed and claims were staked off. Within two years, the town Kolmanskop, complete with a casino, school, hospital and exclusive residential buildings, had been established in the barren sandy desert.
When it got too difficult to find diamonds on the surface, some 30 kilometres south of Kolmanskop a new site named Elizabeth Bay was opened. Here the diamond production was done at a large industrial scale in huge factory plants. Many waggon loads of diamond-bearing sand and gravel had to be brought in to the recovery facilities. The material was then screened and washed in huge drums. The neccessary water was pumped up from the sea. About 1000 carats, that is around 200 grams, of raw diamonds were extracted daily. 10 tons of sand normally contain only 1 to 2 carat raw diamond.
Left: Kolmanskop. Right: Elizabeth Bay.
Over 1000 kg of diamonds were extracted before World War I. However, the amount of gemstones greatly diminished after the war. Furthermore, considerably larger diamonds were found to the south near Oranjemund, causing Kolmanskop to become a ghost town, just like Elizabeth Bay a little later.
The Namib Desert between the B4 (Luederitz – Keetmanshoop) in the north and the Orange river mouth in the south still today is a diamond protection zone. It stretches parallel to the coast at a width of some 100 kilometres. It is exploited exclusively by the Namibian-South African mining company Namdeb, which mines diamonds on a large scale mainly in Oranjemund and in the vicinity of Elizabeth Bay. The plants are closed to the public. Only the ghost town of Kolmanskop – and with extra restrictions also Elizabeth Bay – can be visited.