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Diamonds And Dust: 82 - Affenrucken: The End

Malcolm Bertoni reports that the desert sands are reclaiming the site of what was once the world's biggest diamond mine in Namibia.

Today the wind echoes restlessly through the once well maintained and neat buildings that were once known as the last outpost of the mining concession. The kitchen, dining room and single quarters now stand abandoned and crumbling under the bright Namibian sun and endless south westerlies.

The full size Thurstens billiard table is still there but is now being devoured by the elements. Discarded furniture and fittings lay strewn everywhere, slowly being covered by the relentless sand. The swimming pool is gradually filling with sand and debris. The footbridge across the old riverbed has collapsed and is crumbling to rust.

The water tanks on the hill are still there, but most of the piping has disappeared. The corridors of the single quarters are filling with sand and dust. My old room on the upper level is only just recognisable. The recreation area at the end of the upper level where we had such good times is now covered in graffiti and rubbish. The small gym has disappeared and all that is left is the concrete slab. Time has not been kind to the place.

The ancient riverbed is now almost silent from what was once a vibrant, busy and active fragment of world. A world of endless sand, rock and dust that was for a short time home for some young men. The desert has become a lonelier, bleaker and emptier place. Only the wind and dust is everywhere, embracing everything.

The decision to close Affenrucken would not have been an easy one. It was a busy place with dozens of vehicles and probably a few hundred black and white workers. Perhaps mining had moved further north and the process plant was too far to transport the ore. Perhaps it was too expensive to operate the plant and accommodate workers that far from town. Perhaps it was getting more and more difficult to get operators and labourers to stay at Affenrucken due to its isolation. Whatever. Affenrucken closed in 1987 and the workers commuted from town for each shift. So Affenrucken’s days were numbered. When No 1 Plant closed a few years later that would have been the final nail and Affenrucken was left to the elements.

There is talk that the company wants to demolish all the buildings at Affenrucken and return the site to its pristine condition, whatever that is supposed to be. So a unique symbol of the northern mining region could disappear forever. Inevitably its existence would be forgotten in time.

Many of the old buildings and landmarks in the mining area have already disappeared and are becoming dim memories. Much of the characteristics that made the area so different are already gone.

I got an email from an old friend who I knew in Oranjemund and who had worked in HR. He retired around 2001-2, but did some contract work for Namdeb. He went up to Oranjemund for a few months a few years back and none of the staff working there had heard of Affenrucken. There was no information about Affenrucken; no stats, no personnel records, nothing.

I wonder if anyone in senior management at Namdeb has a sense of history. Perhaps they are too busy with the day to day operations of mining to think too much about it. I wonder if many people realise just what a unique setup De Beers/CDM/Namdeb have had and still have along this part of the coast. I also wonder if Namdeb understand the history that has flowed by on this almost forgotten part of Africa for the past 100 years. None of us realised then what a special place Affenrucken was then and I’m not sure whether anyone does today. It seems that Namdeb is indifferent to the future of the region. Unfortunately if there is one thing I have learned is that large corporations and governments are not concerned at all about preserving the past. I hope I'm wrong.

By all accounts it seems that there is not much left in area No 1 with the land-based mining reserves almost exhausted and all the treatment plants closed with most of the production now from the sea. What happens to the town now? No-one seems to know what will happen to the mine, the region or the town and the writing seems to be on the wall, as there is the possibility of closing down all the land-based operations rather soon. There are meetings and ongoing discussions about privatising the town and selling off the company’s assets, including the houses. Some of the services such as electricity, telephones, hospitals and shops are already being outsourced. Whether the town can survive without mining to keep it going remains to be seen. Perhaps in 50 years there would be more tourists being shown around another of the Sperrgebiet’s ghost towns.

It the end the desert reclaims everything again. Perhaps it’s how it should be.

**

To read earlier chapters of Malcolm's vivid account of diamond mining in Namibia please visit http://www.openwriting.com/archives/diamonds_and_dust/

To obtain a copy of his book click on http://www.equilibriumbooks.com/diamonds.htm

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