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Salt - the white gold of bygone times

Avatar of inke inke - 03. juin 2016 - Discover Namibia

The salt works south of Walvis Bay. (Photo: Sven-Eric Kanzler)

Salt is vital: human beings should take in 3 to 6 g per day. Body cells need salt to keep functioning at top level and salt is also necessary for the production of gastric acid. Salt has become a matter of course for us. We use it without thinking twice – and often far too liberally. But it was not always like that. Advanced civilisations of earlier times valued salt almost as highly as gold. 

More than 60 types of industries are based on salt and the chemicals which are made with it, and it is hard to imagine life without them. Whereas essential raw materials like crude oil and even water are limited, the supply of salt seems virtually inexhaustible. Apparently the salt domes of the world contain 100 trillion tons of the ‘white gold’- enough for the next 400,000 years. In addition there is the salt from the oceans, which is also harvested here in Namibia. 

But in Namibia salt is not only available from the ocean. It is also found in the interior, in depressions and pans such as Sossusvlei or the Etosha Pan - wherever a body of water has evaporated. Old photos, taken before the First World War, show Ovambo people collecting salt from the Etosha Pan and other pans and trading it.

The first documented attempts at producing salt on the Namibian coast date back to 1908 when Fritz Kramer, an engineer, arrived in the country. He bought a piece of land on the Swakop River south of Goanikontes, some 40 kilometres from the coast. Because of the white crusts which remained on the sand after the brackish water had trickled away, he thought that the salt content of the soil was quite high. In his spare time he set up a small salt work. It was not a particularly successful venture, however. The remains can still be seen today. 

The Salt Company north of Swakopmund was established in 1936. It was the first enterprise which made good use of Namibia’s favourable coastal climate - many hours of sunshine, very little precipitation and a constant breeze - to produce salt by solar evaporation of seawater. The company has grown steadily. Sea salt production is extremely eco-friendly. The plant of the Swakopmund Salt Company is registered as a nature reserve. It is home to numerous bird species. 

The long-established company, the first to produce salt through the evaporation of seawater, was joined by an even larger plant in Walvis Bay in 1964. The salt works in Walvis Bay are among the largest solar evaporation plants in Africa.

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