TREASURES OF THE DIAMOND COAST: A Century of Diamond Mining in Namibia

By By Michael Tambo
October 2011
Book Review
Treasures of the Diamond Coast: A Century of Diamond Mining in Namibia is Dr Gabi Schneider’s book about the history of the Namibian Diamond Coast, first published by McMillan Education Namibia in 2009.

Treasures of the Diamond Coast is undoubtedly the encyclopaedia for diamond mining as it analytically chronicles all aspects of the diamond-mining industry, from events leading up to the discovery of the first diamonds to the major impact this discovery has on the country’s economy and the culture that ensued.

Moreover, the information and visual material are presented in such a way that the book appeals to a wide readership, from the casual reader and historian to the specialist diamonds collector.

The book gives a detailed account of the history of the Namibian diamond coast, covering geological, technological, economical as well as human aspects.

“In April 1908, the first diamond was found in Namibia by railway worker Zacharias Peter Lewala. Today, 100 years after this historic event, we look back on a century of diamond mining in Namibia.”

It is, thus, an appropriate time to reflect on the development of the diamond mining industry in our country, and pay tribute to those who built and shaped this vital sector of the Namibian economy,” commented the then Minister of Mines and Energy, Erkki Nghimtina in the book’s preface.

The six introductory chapters are followed by a Prelude, which examines the search for diamonds before 1908. Diamonds have been mined in Namibia for an entire century.

The secret of the wealth of the diamond deposits sustaining mining for such a long time is the fact that the country has been blessed with the most incredible geological processes, which worked together over millions of years to form an ore body unequalled in size or quality by any other occurrences of this most precious gemstone.

In addition to photographs, the book is generously illustrated with reproductions of documents, maps, mine plans, sketches and other artwork. Each chapter opens with a quotation of perceptions and opinions expressed by one of a wide variety of people, from Zacharias Lewala, the railway worker who found the first officially recognised diamond, and his superior Bahnmeister August Stauch, to geologists, engineers, Government officials, businessmen, journalists, authors, in short, people who in one way or another had a connection with the exploration and production of diamonds in Namibia.

“Despite their sparkle, the treasures of the Namibian coast remained hidden for a long time. By the beginning of the 1900s Namibia had already developed a number of mines that had been producing a range of metals for many years, but diamond mining had remained a dream. No one however, had imagined that the precious stone could be found in a rather different environment and that the sparkling gems lay on the desert floor, right under the feet of those who were daring enough to venture there.

“This all changed one day in April 1908 when Zacharias Lewala discovered the first diamond in Namibia. Since then the stretch southwards from Luderitz to Oranjemund has developed into one of the most important diamond producing areas in the world,” writes Schneider.

In Parts III (1908–1920), IV (1920–1990) and V (1990–2009) the author recreates the growth of the industry step by step, detailing the many different companies and individuals who played different roles. Today, Namibia is the world’s technological leader in mining diamonds from the seabed.

Dr Gabi Schneider was born in Frankfurt where she studied geology and mineralogy at the Hohan Wolfgang Goethe University from 1974 to 1980, and also obtained her doctrate in 1984. After moving to Namibia in 1985, she joined the Geological Survey of Namibia in Windhoek, and was appointed as director of this institution in 1996.

Her professional experience covers economic and exploration geology, mineralogy and geochemistry as well as management and administration.

During her studies and career, she has focused on economic geology and has published more than 100 papers mainly on this subject.

Stimulated by the outstanding role that diamonds play for the Namibian economy and the fascination of the unique processes that formed their deposits along the Namibian west coast, she has developed a keen interest in the economic geology of this diamond.

Apart from being the Vice-President of the Organisation of African Geological Surveys, she is a director of the Mineral Development Fund of Namibia Control Board, the Vice Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Namibian Institute for Mining and Technology (NIMT); and a member of the National Heritage Council of Namibia, where she also holds the post of Chairperson of the Scientific Committee.

She serves as a non-executive director of Anglo Gold Ashanti Namibia and is a founding member of the Small Miners Association of Namibia. She also served as a Director of the National Petroleum Corporation of Namibia (NAMCOR), as well as a director of the Small Miner’s Assistance Centre.

Dr Schneider serves as a presidential appointee on the Council of the University of Namibia, where she is a member of the Executive Committee. She has been an external examiner of the University of St. Andrews, UK; the University of Frankfurt, Germany and University of South Africa (UNISA).

In 2004, Dr. Schneider was elected as a Councillor of the International Union of Geological Sciences at the 32nd International Geological Congress in Florence, Italy.

She further served on the International Science Committee for the 33rd International Geological Congress, and is currently a member of the Preparatory Committee for the 35th International Geological Congress which will be held in Cape Town in 2016. Furthermore, she is the elected representative for Africa on the Steering Committee of the international One Geology project.