Since colonial times the cultural landscapes of west Namibia have been shaped considerably by industrialised mining.
The latest ‘rush’ for resources is for uranium, but over the last 250 years Namibia has seen many such ‘rushes’ for the commercial extraction of resources to be sold on distant foreign markets. In 1796, the British administration of the Cape Colony claimed exclusive rights to catch whales and seals in Namibian waters. These ‘rights’ were later deployed in an 1840s ‘guano rush’ on islands along Namibia’s coastline that exhausted this resource in around four years.
European arrival inland in the nineteenth century saw widespread hunting with firearms, partly for ‘sport’ but also to export ivory, skins and ostrich feathers to buoyant European markets. Under German occupation in the late nineteenth century, the extractive focus switched to metals such as tin and copper, mined inland and transported to the coast for export on new railways. Copper is still mined in Namibia today, along with gold, zinc, manganese and, of course, diamonds and
Cadastral map showing areas of Namibia covered by active mining licenses and license applications, June 2016. Extracted from here by Mike Hannis.
Looking to the future, the next ‘rush’ in Namibia may well be for rare earth minerals such as tantalum, used in mobile phones and other electronics. Several viable deposits have already been identified. Lithium, the key ingredient in modern batteries, is also mined in Namibia.
Parts of the extractive frontier are moving back to the ocean – diamonds are already mined offshore, and there are well-advanced plans to dredge phosphate from the seabed. Offshore oil drilling is also imminent – the Atlantic Ocean off Namibia exhibits similar subsea geology to that of existing productive oilfields off neighbouring Angola.
Satellite image showing two uranium mining and processing complexes. Above the ephemeral Khan river is the well-established Rössing mine and below are the emergent traces of the new Husab mine. Source: DigitalGlobe.
The main pit at Rössing uranium mine, 2014. Photo: Mike Hannis.
The slides here compiled by by Mike Hannis on Mining Landscapes of Namibia depict various layers of mining, and their imprint on the landscapes of west Namibia.