Elizabeth Bay Deserted Town - Namibia
A town of two halves, one thriving modern day mining town, the other, the abandoned houses of half a century ago, slowly being eaten away by the gigantic dunes of the Namib. So, what’s the story here and why is it different to the other famous ghost town of this area, Kolmanskop.
Elizabeth Bay was nothing but a small bay on the Namibian coast 25 kms from its livelier neighbour, Luderitz. Few ventured out from the big port and those that did, came to see the huge colonies of Cape Fur Seals that throng the area. In fact 40% of the world’s population of these seals are found here at Elizabeth Bay.
Then one day, a diamond prospector from Kolmanskop
took a day trip with his wife and a picnic down to see the seals and through the dust churned up by their modern motor car he noticed a difference in the land to the side of them for where the journey had been mostly along hard packed sandy roads and scrub, now there lay a vast plain where nothing grew and the different texture of the surface picked it out like a lake amid the desert. Stopping the car, he removed his jacket, goggles and hat and walked slowly, apprehensively out towards the edge of this terrain. The closer he got, the more his suspicions were justified for here, as in Kolmanskop was the surface of a great gravel plain, the terrain that was known in the area to be rich in diamonds. His wife was dismayed as he turned the car around and headed straight back to Luderitz and the local government office.
There, speaking to a friend and sweetened with a brown envelope, he acquired the ownership 20 km2 of land between Luderitz and the sea at Elizabeth Bay. The very next day his wife and the picnic accompanied him plus a trusted employee to his new acquisition and set about surveying the plot. On that first day alone they found 18cts of diamonds and the indications were that the plot would yield many more. The plot was not going to make him very wealthy though for within weeks a compulsory purchase order was placed on the land and it was taken over by the German Protectorate. Enough money was made to have made it worthwhile and to ensure he and his family needn’t work again but for the next 37 years it was haphazardly picked over until no diamonds remained and the town that had grown up around the prospect withered and died.
Most ghost towns stay just that until time and nature reclaims what was naturally theirs but Elizabeth Bay was like a cat with nine lives and for nine years from 1989 until 1998 a new mine produced 2.5 million carats of diamonds and the town flourished again. Diamonds are not a limitless commodity and time was already warning that the town must return to its slumber once more, the new and renovated houses in the town appearing like a scar on the old weathered ones. For two years the town emptied once more and fate decided that Elizabeth Bay had breathed its last….until… a partnership between De Beers and the Namibian government decided to experiment with a new form of diamond mine that would help release hitherto out of reach diamonds. Today the mine still works and diamonds continue to flow to the surface but the town has been warned… The diamonds are due to run out in 2013 and already the mine is operating at a loss. Will this be the final time Elizabeth Bay is put to rest or????
The future may not be so bleak. The seals, once Elizabeth Bay’s only draw are still there and ecologically important. The decline of the old town has been halted with the goodwill of the mine owners and perhaps it will flower again as a tourist attraction like Kolmanskop?