Namibia’s ghost town of Kolmanskop, one of Africa’s richest communities in the 1920s

Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson December 12, 2018

Located on the Namib desert in Namibia, Kolmanskop is one of the most visited tourist sites in the country. Established in the early 19th century after its discovery, the town existed and flourished for close to 40 years before being abandoned.

Due to its harsh weather conditions, the Namib desert area had less human life, however, the territory was home to the Owambo, San, Herero and other smaller native groups many of which have left the area since the establishment of Kolmanskop and the severe weather condition of the desert.

By the 1900s Namibia was part of  German territory in Southern Africa and the Namib desert and served mainly as a transport route with railways and roads.

Namibia's ghost town of Kolmanskop, one of Africa's richest communities in the 1920s

A house in Kolmanskop

According to an article on Namibia Accommodation, Kolmanskop was named in 1905 after a popular transport driver Johhny Kolman who often used the routes and camped in the area. In 1908, a southern African mine worker and railway employee Zacharias Lewala was shovelling drift sand from the tracks when he found a “strange” stone.

Zacharias took the stone to his German boss and permanent-way inspector August Stauch who with the help of analysts discovered that the strange stone was a diamond.

Namibia's ghost town of Kolmanskop, one of Africa's richest communities in the 1920s


Soon after the discovery of diamonds, several German miners settled in the area which developed into a very wealthy and well-planned town and home to some of the world’s richest people in the 20th century.

Nothing much is heard of  Zacharias Lewala after this, but August Stauch went on to become a very wealthy diamond miner after he made claims of the area. By the 1920s, Kolmanskop was home to 300 German adults, 40 children and 800 native Owambo contract workers while several other natives who were not workers were made to leave the town.

Namibia's ghost town of Kolmanskop, one of Africa's richest communities in the 1920s


Thanks to the riches of its new inhabitants, the desert town boasted of high infrastructure, sophisticated architecture and several social amenities to keep itself sufficient. Locals could afford to pay for water to be brought into the town and hired doctors, teachers, butchers and entertainers who were contracted to stay in the town and serve the people.

The town had a first class hospital, gymnastic club, a theatre, church, school and a post office and according to an article on Kolmanskop, locals were rich enough to keep lawns in their homes that required plenty of water to maintain them.

Namibia's ghost town of Kolmanskop, one of Africa's richest communities in the 1920s

Kolmanskop town started to decline during World War II when much labour was taken from Africa and mining of diamonds became harder because much of it had been taken away. By 1956, the town was abandoned after the discovery of diamonds towards the south.

Kolmanskop became known as a ghost town as the desert began to eat it up. In 1980, the De Beers mining company decided to preserve the area and its history and set up a museum that tourists can visit to have a feel of the rich neighbourhood that existed in the desert.

Today, despite being slowly eaten up by desert sands, the town continues to gain attraction because of its rich architecture and history.

Aside from being one of the most visited tourist sites in Namibia, the site has also been used as a location for several movies and TV series such as Dust Devil, The Mantis Project, Lunarcop, Destination Truth and several others. The ghost town also serves as inspiration for several literary works and photo exhibitions of photographers such as Tristan Edsall.

Last Edited by:Francis Akhalbey Updated: October 29, 2020


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