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Namibian Mining Town

Tsumeb belongs like Grootfontein and Otavi to the so called Otavi, Maize or Copper Triangle and lies in a region that receives exceptionally high annual rainfalls compared to the rest of the country (more than 550 ml annually), which allows intensive agriculture. Neither corn and grain nor fruit and vegetables underline the importance of the towns within the Otavi Mountains but rather the deposits of ores and minerals.


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Tsumeb, which presently counts about 15,000 inhabitants, was originally home to the San (Bushmen), the original inhabitants of Namibia. Here they discovered deposits of copper ore and were able to extract copper from the deposits that were found close to the surface. This led to a lively trade with copper, which was soon to be discovered by the colonialists. They organised several excursions to explore the ore deposits and realised that the utilisation of the resources was difficult due to the remoteness of the area and the lack of transportation routes.

The English – German Otavi Mine and Railway Company started with the industrial mining in 1900. Not only copper was found, but also lead, zinc and more than 200 other minerals, of which some only occurred here. The first batch of ore was transported by ox-wagon to Swakopmund at the end of 1900, from where it was then shipped to Europe.

A railway line was built to Swakopmund, which was completed in 1906. For the construction of the railway line Hereros and Ovambos were conscripted, which was one of the reasons leading to the Herero uprising in 1904, the more so as the land required for building the railway line was annexed without previous consent of the local owner. With the completion of the railway line to Swakopmund the town and the surrounding area experienced an economic boom. In 1907 already Tsumeb had a high pressure water pipeline for example.

With the outbreak of World War I the production at the mines declined and also later the production fluctuated constantly with the world economic crisis and the Second World War. Today only parts of the mines are still operational.

The museum of local history, which was established in 1975, provides detailed information on the mining history.

Tsumeb is, like all towns within the Otavi Triangle, a green town. Due to the abundance of Jacaranda Trees Tsumeb is also called the “Garden Town”.

About 25 km northwest of Tsumeb the Otjikoto Lake is found, a source of many myths and stories. The lake is 125 m deep and is together with the neighbouring Lake Guinas the only natural lake in Namibia. The German troops sank some of their weapons into the lake in July 1915 before surrendering to the superior South African Army. Some weapons were retrieved again later and after being restored are now displayed in the museum in Tsumeb. Einige der Waffen wurden später wieder geborgen und sind nach deren Restaurierung in Museum zu sehen.

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