While gemsbok all over the country are known to be elusive animals, those in the south-westernmost corner of the Tsau //Khaeb National Park are of a different breed. Hard to believe they stem from the same legendary beast, these gemsbok have made the cosy town of Oranjemund their home. Here they wander lazily through the streets, doze under shady trees, and munch on fresh, green lawn when hunger hits. Although placed in the midst of a wild and ancient desert, these animals have become so comfortable with their luxury environment that the human residents had no choice but to accept their company. The gemsbok has since become the official representative of the town and features proudly on its coat of arms.
Text Marita van Rooyen
To appreciate the gemsbok in Oranjemund it’s necessary to understand the history of the town. Without the presence of humans, there would be no lawn for the gemsbok to nibble on, but without diamonds, there would be nothing at all.
Established in 1936 as a mining town – to cater for the growing number of workers exploiting mineral deposits in the desert of south-western Africa – Oranjemund is strategically located on the northern bank of the Orange River, an area that has been known for many years as one of the richest diamond fields in the world.
For decades the town flourished as a self-sustaining hub in the desert, created and provided for by the mine, in its various representations over the years. Inhabitants lived in a sheltered bubble, restricted to employees of the mine and their relatives, impenetrable by the outside world. Everyone was granted housing and basic services free of charge, and the town had its own cattle farm and vegetable gardens to supply all sorts of fresh produce to its residents. Social life was seen as key to the mental state of the inhabitants, and sports and cultural clubs were the order of the day. So was religion, with at least six churches in town representing various denominations. Life in the sheltered diamond town of Oranjemund continued undisturbed for more than 80 years.