In the early part of the 1900s when mining began around the coastal areas, the Namas were displaced from their coastal grazing fields around Boegoeberg and Alexander Bay. The oldest inhabitants of Sanddrift, 57 km from Alexander Bay to the east, still tell the stories of their forefathers, how they lived and how they came to be here to lead quiet pastoral existences.
In the 1970s diamond mines were again established in the Sanddrift area, and consequently many of the local inhabitants began working on the mines. Although this created employment, it constituted such an abrupt halt to a simple lifestyle, that it caused much socio-economic upheaval. In fact the Nama heritage became severely threatened for a time, but the flame has now been rekindled.
The mining history of the Richtersveld started in the southern regions, where abandoned mines can still be seen. A train pulled by mules to carry copper ore from the mines at O’kiep to Port Nolloth’s harbour opened up the commercial mining history in the Richtersveld. After the 17 years it took to lay the tracks, the train started operating in 1869 and was upgraded to steam locomotion 25 years later. Today, old cooling towers can still be found along this route. However, the minerals found here never warranted great investment, with the exception of the diamonds further north. When the son of a Port Nolloth shopkeeper, Jack Carstens, found a diamond in 1926 south of the town, the diamond rush along the coast started.
These diamonds had been carried down by rivers to the coast. Changes in the watercourse and in sea level over millions of years resulted in concentrations of diamonds in terraces along the banks of the Orange River, where Sanddrift lies, and along the coast. This is where diamond mining has been the most intense for decades—from the time when shovels and manual sieves were all that was needed to uncover the abundant precious stones, to the present days when the most sophisticated excavation and pumping equipment is needed both on land and in the water. Despite the downscaling trend in the mining activity, the scars prevail on the coastal land, making for a lunar landscape.
A fusion of cultures, a mythical landscape
Sanddrift’s mix of cultures is evident in the traditional Nama and Xhosa dances, the choirs, and the mythical stories and ancient beliefs of the Nama people. As the Richtersvelders say: “Sanddrift is truly the District Six of the Richtersveld. Alive with character, it pulsates as a living emblem of the new South Africa where many diverse cultures fuse and live together in this little desert town”.
Sanddrift hosts some of the most spectacular sunsets in the Richtersveld. There are many unexplored red landscapes, unique flora and fauna, and fascinating myths and stories that haunt the river settlement. Cross the vast !Gariep during late summer, when the river is at its shallowest, and feel the gorgeous colourful semi-precious stones, catch fish and watch the birds as you inhale the fresh air and let the river streams trickle between your toes.
Cultural Activities: In the “rainbow town of the Richtersveld” there is storytelling, traditional Namastap dance, and much more to learn about the local cultures.
Basotho Stars and Youth choir: Traditional Xhosa dances and songs by the Basotho Stars, and the soulful voices of the Youth Choir.
Ancient rock engravings: In Bloeddrift, towards Sendelingsdrift, black dolomite rocks still show the petroglyphs engraved by the ancestors of the San.