PROFILE: JUSTIN JENKINS
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.”