Kol­man­skop’s last in­hab­i­tant

Hen­ties Bay res­i­dent Justin Jenk­ins trav­els across Namibia from one agri­cul­tural show to the next, tow­ing his cala­mari stand. When you run into him next time, ask him about Kol­man­skop – he was one of the ghost town’s last res­i­dents.

When­ever he thinks of Kol­man­skop, Justin Jenk­ins (64) smiles. “Dit was een groot fees!” he says. We’re next to his cala­mari stand at the Groot­fontein Show. His wife Aletta takes con­trol of the pots while we chat.

Justin was born on Shark Is­land in Lüderitz in 1950. Shortly af­ter the end of World War II, his par­ents had moved to Kol­man­skop, where his fa­ther worked as a fore­man at the mine’s me­chan­i­cal work­shop.

Back then the di­a­mond mine had al­ready run dry, but peo­ple kept busy work­ing for the rail­ways and dis­as­sem­bling min­ing equip­ment. Justin says there was also a fac­tory that pro­duced ice and cooldrinks. A man­ual tele­phone ex­change con­nected them with the out­side world.

“The Kol­man­skop com­mu­nity was like one big fam­ily,” he says of the 40 fam­i­lies who stayed in town un­til the bit­ter end. “I can’t re­mem­ber a sin­gle dis­agree­ment. On Christ­mas Eve, the fam­i­lies would walk from house to house to sing car­ols and eat bis­cuits.”

The Jenk­ins fam­ily lived next door to the bowl­ing al­ley and dance hall. “It was our job as kids to re­trieve the bowl­ing balls for the adults,” he says.

He re­mem­bers how they or­dered gro­ceries from the Jewish shop­keeper, who would de­liver their goods us­ing a mule-drawn sledge.

The train brought their drink­ing wa­ter from Garub near Aus, the abat­toir kept a herd of cat­tle and the res­i­dents could buy fresh meat from the butch­ery.

Some­times Justin trav­elled to Lüderitz, 10 km west, to visit the bio­scope. The first Afrikaans movie he saw was Dis lekker om te lewe, with Al Debbo and Fred Burg­ers.

Talk­ing about Kol­man­skop again, he says: “I re­mem­ber ev­ery house. The whole town was our play­ground. We would in­flate an in­ner tube and slide down the dunes. Or we would ride our bikes down the slopes.” When Justin re­turned to Kol­man­skop years later, he was sur­prised to find his old tri­cy­cle in the mu­seum.

Justin and his friends of­ten dis­cov­ered “new” houses that had been buried un­der the sand for years un­til the wind dug them up again. “We would won­der where th­ese houses had come from. Some­times we walked on their roofs with­out know­ing it. We were fear­less and dug holes and tun­nels in the sand. We crawled around like moles.”

The wind blew day and night, at times enough to cause a sand­storm. When a sand­storm threat­ened, the prin­ci­pal of the He­lena van Ryn Pri­mary School (in Lüderitz) would call out all the Kol­man­skop kids so they could rush home be­fore the storm hit. “The wind blew so hard you couldn’t see the road. At home you couldn’t even see your neigh­bour’s house. I re­mem­ber how the wind howled and howled – hoe, hoe, hoe – es­pe­cially at night. Once a month, graders would come and clear sand from next to peo­ple’s houses – of­ten it would pile up as high as the win­dows.”

Strict se­cu­rity mea­sures were still in place to pre­vent the il­le­gal trade of di­a­monds. “My friends grow­ing up were the chil­dren of the de­tec­tives,” says Justin.

He re­mem­bers de­tec­tives like Van Niek­erk, Wol­faard, Hugo and Laker. “On week­ends we went with the de­tec­tives to places in the Sper­rge­biet where no one had ever set foot. We camped on the beach, fished and caught cray­fish.”

Over time, job op­por­tu­ni­ties in the town grew scarce and it be­came too costly to main­tain the houses. Ev­ery­one had to move. Justin will never for­get the day in 1957 when his fam­ily – the last re­main­ing res­i­dents – left Kol­man­skop in an Austin truck. “You could say that we were the ones who turned off the lights,” he says. They moved to Aus, where his fa­ther later farmed sheep.

“It’s sad to think of all the peo­ple who had to leave, but some­times I run into other Kol­man­skop­pers,” Justin says. “We tell each other our sto­ries; it warms the heart.”

Justin hasn’t vis­ited the ghost town for two decades, but one day he’d like to show his grand­chil­dren where he came from. What does he re­mem­ber most about Kol­man­skop? He’s quiet for a while. “I see my­self run­ning around as a child. En ja, all the love.”

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