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By unknown | Aug 27, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

THE glittering diamonds are almost gone and as the lustre fades on South Africa's Diamond Coast, desperate ghost towns are left clinging to the last signs of life.

THE glittering diamonds are almost gone and as the lustre fades on South Africa's Diamond Coast, desperate ghost towns are left clinging to the last signs of life.

The heyday of diamond mining might be over, but the restoration of a once-pristine landscape along the country's west coast should turn this wasteland of scarred earth into a tourist paradise.

Isolated under strict security for 80 years of mining, towering mine dumps reach hundreds of metres into the air along the coast, the site of one of the most ambitious mining restoration projects to date.

It's hard to believe it by looking at the area now. The sole customer in a supermarket on a recent day in one of the mining towns, Kleinzee, said the industry had left it looking as if a "nuclear bomb was dropped on it".

Since 2007 the world's leading diamond company, De Beers, has drastically cut operations at its Namaqualand mines as the precious gems run out, reducing staff from about 3000 to 250.

Globally, known diamond reserves are expected to run out in 30 years.

Kleinzee, located about 600km north of Cape Town in the country's biggest and most sparsely populated province of Northern Cape, is owned by the diamond giant.

Schools, recreation centres and houses stand empty.

Its mine has already shut down and residents wait desperately for officials to proclaim an end to its life as a privately owned mining town so individuals can buy homes themselves and try to breathe life into business.

"All my friends lost their jobs. This is a mining town, what must they do here?" said local supermarket owner Ann Engelbrecht, whose sales have dropped 60percent with only a trickle of tourists and locals sustaining her.

She took over the Spar in 2007 after working for De Beers since 1984, and says she has already had two heart attacks from the stress.

"Business is bad but I really believe if the town is proclaimed things will get better."

De Beers, grappling with how to leave the town, is partnering with conservationists to reinvigorate the area through tourism, fish farming and other industries.

The project highlights increasing concerns about the environmental footprint left by mining and the responsibility of companies to mitigate it.

De Beers Namaqualand spokesperson Gert Klopper says the company hopes the project will improve the image of the diamond industry, long blighted by conflict and violence.

De Beers owns about 10percent of South Africa's 2500km coastline, much of which has been mined.

Conservation experts are now busy filling gaping holes and transplanting sensitive plant species to restore the vast plains to their former glory.

Klopper notes that while about 10000 hectares have been mined, a total of 90000 hectares were restricted from the public for decades, meaning "huge tracts of land have been pristinely preserved".

Thick and varied vegetation which comes alive with wildflowers in spring stretches for miles to sandy white dunes and idyllic beaches ideal for surfing.

With the rest of South Africa's coast overdeveloped, it is hoped a new tourist attraction will be created along with hundreds of jobs in the most isolated corner of the country.

Sea water pumps designed for mining are now helping fill the pits, which are being turned into oyster and abalone farms.

Already exposed bedrock is being eyed for nearly 100 wind turbines along the wind-blown coastline - to create much needed renewable energy.

Other plans are under way to create land art, a marina, seawater greenhouses and hiking trails, and even to turn one massive pit into a concert venue. - Sapa-AFP


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