« Oh Blogger! | Main | Viewin' Stuff »

Diamonds And Dust: 10 – The Mining Area

…There was plenty of wildlife here if you looked carefully and were patient. There were jackal, strandwolf and caracal as well as their prey, the gemsbok and springbok. There were even cheetah. One morning, in the distance I saw some ostrich bounding across one of the pans…

Malcolm Bertoni tells of the beauty of the coastal area of Namibia where he worked as a diamond miner.

I loved the fact that the mine diggings were all along the coast. The sea air was fresh and invigorating. I used to go for jogs along the beaches, which were empty as far as the eye could see. I swam very little in the icy Atlantic water. Swimming consisted of a quick dive into the waves and running out as soon as possible to prevent freezing or heart failure or both.

The only time I hated the place was when the steady, cool south-westerly died away and was replaced by the hot and dry easterly wind, or “Berg” wind, that swept through from inland. This only happened once or twice a year during the winter months, thank goodness, and usually lasted a day or two.

The air then became thick with dust and it got everywhere: in the eyes, ears, nose. Often the sun became a haze of pale gold, shrouded by the suspended dust and fine sand in the air. Sometimes the mine had to shut down if the visibility became too bad.

But those were only rare occasions. The mornings were often beautiful, with no wind, which usually came up by late morning. Often there was fog as well, but this usually lifted by mid-morning. There were often spectacular sunsets, and I took dozens of sunset pictures.

The south-westerly winds could get quite strong and often kicked up the sand, which was very abrasive and was responsible for strange sculptured rock shapes. Glass especially could be sandblasted quite easily.

There was little rain, and most of the moisture was in the form of fog. I heard somewhere that about a third of year there is fog along the coast between Oranjemund and Luderitz.

The fog was pretty notorious along this part of the coast. On bad days it was as thick as pea soup. The fog usually rolled in during the evenings and by 9 or 10 pm could be very thick, with visibility down to 20-25 metres.

All the roads had white posts every 10-15 metres or so. From what I can remember the posts on the left had white reflectors and the posts on the right had red reflectors. This was to enable one to see where the road was, and it was an interesting experience to follow the posts for 120 kilometres at about 25 kilometres per hour. The posts were considered so important for the safety of vehicles driving in the fog that when one guy decided to have some fun while in a drunken state and mowed down about 3 or 4 kilometres of posts, the company was not impressed. He was immediately fired.

I remember one trip back from town one evening. The clutch of the Land Rover packed up and I had to drop the revs to enable the gears to be changed. To make matters worse, the fog was the worst it had been for some time, and I had to drop the speed down to about 30-40 kilometres per hour. It took me over three hours to do the trip from town to Affenrucken – more than twice the normal time. The Land Rovers we drove had pretty poor lights, and fog lights were unheard of.

It didn’t get too hot, as the cold Atlantic current kept temperatures at a reasonable level. It only really got hot when the easterlies blew. At night it got quite cold due to the desert influence, but from what I can recall never below freezing.

There were mostly windswept dunes along the coast, with rocky headlands. Inland there are lots of gravelly flat plains and rocky outcrops and hills. Further inland - about 100 kilometres - the Aurus Mountains were an imposing presence running from south-east to north-west. Further on I describe how we drove almost to the foot of these mountains one Easter weekend.

The mostly sandy shorelines and narrow beaches were protected by booming waves and treacherous currents as well as icy sea temperatures. A mist of spray from the waves would often hang over the coastline that was occasionally interrupted by rocky outcrops and headlands.

There was plenty of wildlife here if you looked carefully and were patient. There were jackal, strandwolf and caracal as well as their prey, the gemsbok and springbok. There were even cheetah. One morning, in the distance I saw some ostrich bounding across one of the pans. There were also the tiny lizards, spiders, beetles and the horned adder. There were hundreds of species of lichen and succulents all along the coast.

The sunsets and often the sunrises were usually stunning, ranging from yellow, orange to red and purple. I remember one evening there was a thunderstorm – the only one I can recall ever occurring while I was there. There was lightning, thunder and a brief, heavy downpour. The whole lot. It was strange.

Generally, the Ovambos were great to work with. They were the largest ethnic group by far in South West Africa. They were of average height and build and not big and muscularly like the Zulus or Xhosas of South Africa. They were employed as labourers, drivers, gardeners, servants, etc – virtually for every unskilled job on the mine.

They were very good loader, truck and heavy equipment drivers. They were especially good with children and made good servants for the married families in town. This was one of the most desirable jobs as it meant easy hours and conditions. They were friendly and easygoing, and I got on well with them.

Most of the Ovambos had 12-month contracts, went back to Ovamboland for three or six months and then could come back and do another12-month contract, repeating the process as often as they wanted. They seemed to be well looked after by CDM and had no complaints really. There would have been between a 150 and 200 based at Affenrucken.


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.