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  • These dunes, scorched by the sun and lashed by the winds,

  • finally come to die on a coast mercilessly beaten by the waves.

  • The same coast which, for centuries,

  • the sailors who plied the commercial routes between Europe and the West Indies

  • feared, respected, and above all avoided.

  • This coast has inspired many a writer.

  • Its sands are strewn with the skeletons of dead animals,

  • bleached by the sun,

  • testimony to the harshness of this coast,

  • where only the strongest and best adapted are capable of surviving.

  • They have seen many tragedies at sea,

  • and this place has well earned its fearful name:

  • The Skeleton Coast.

  • Not so long ago, the White Man also tried to adapt to this dry land.

  • They came here lured by the promise of untold riches, the diamond deposits.

  • But nature proved stronger, and they soon had to admit defeat.

  • Entire towns were abandoned overnight, as they fled from the terrors of the desert.

  • These ghost towns still provide the greatest evidence of the hostility of this land.

  • Shipwrecks, of many ages and many nationalities,

  • worn by the passing of time, still lie half-buried,

  • perhaps silently lamenting their absurd, unexpected fate.

  • The old ships, made of wood, have slowly crumbled away,

  • the combined effect of the sea, the wind and the sand,

  • but the most modern ships, made of metal, rise like ghosts from the deserted beaches.

  • The Skeleton Coast marks the limit of a desert which covers a narrow strip,

  • no wider than 200 kilometres, running from southern Angola to the Orange river,

  • the border with South Africa.

  • Like a coastal belt, the dunes and rocks of the Namib desert

  • cover 250,000 square kilometres along more than 2,000 kilometres

  • of the Atlantic coast of Namibia.

  • The Namib is one of the oldest, and most arid, deserts in the world.

  • Its mountains were witnesses to the cataclysms of the Jurassic age,

  • when the super-continent Gondwana split apart, creating new landmasses,

  • among them Southern Africa.

  • Just a few kilometres away, enormous dunes, over 300 metres high,

  • transform the landscape, making it unrecognisable.

  • That is the Namib, a constantly-changing desert, a dry land where life lies in hiding.

  • From the air, this mass of orange-coloured sand seems endless.

  • These are the tallest dunes in the world,

  • and below them lies the world’s largest diamond deposit.

  • It is a fantastic sight, which could only have been created by nature.

  • As the light changes, the dunes of the Namib

  • take on a thousand different hues, of spectacular beauty.

  • They are like mobile sculptures, shaped over thousands of years by the wind.

  • The underground rivers provide just enough water for the odd acacia,

  • adding a not-quite-adequate green to the symphony of crude colours dotted across the landscape.

  • But every year, there is a veritable explosion of life along the Skeleton Coast.

  • In October, the sea-lions come to these coasts to give birth.

  • The cold Benguela current, which travels up from the glacial Antarctic Ocean,

  • and along the south-west coast of Africa,

  • carries with it a considerable quantity of nutrients.

  • The sea is soon swimming with fish, and these attract the sea-lions,

  • which are the final link in this particular food chain.

  • At this time of year, Cape Cross is home to the largest colony of sea-lions

  • over one hundred thousand of them.

  • Outside the breeding season, males of the species are rarely seen

  • they start to arrive at the end of October, in order to mark out their territory.

  • They are well-fed when they arrive,

  • and can weigh up to considerable amount of energy,

  • defending their territories and protecting the females, and can lose up to 200 kilos.

  • The first European to set foot on this coast was the Portuguese, Diego Cao, in 1486.

  • A year later, another Portuguese navigator,

  • Bartolomé Días, with his three ships,

  • sailed into the bay, seeking protection from a storm.

  • After many attempts, he finally managed to land,

  • and named the bayAngra Pequena’ (small cove)

  • But it was not until 1883 that the first stable settlement was established,

  • when the German navigator and merchant, Adolfderitz,

  • reached an agreement with the head of one of the Nama tribes.

  • deritz bought the bay for a relative small amount of money and sixty rifles,

  • in order to set up a whale processing plant here.

  • A few months later, Kanzler Bismark declared Namibia a protectorate of the German Empire.

  • In 1904, war broke out between the Nama and the Germans,

  • andderitz became the first prisoner of war.

  • These are rich waters, and the whaling business rapidly flourished.

  • The port, and a modern processing plant were built.

  • But the real industrial and economic boom came later, with the discovery of the diamond mines.

  • This was in May 1908, when, during the construction of the railway line,

  • a worker called Zachary Lewala found a small, bright stone, lying on the ground.

  • He showed this stone to his boss, the German Augustus Stauch

  • who, realising what it was, requested permission from the authorities to prospect in the area.

  • The news spread like wildfire and soon merchants,

  • adventurers and fortune-seekers began to arrive inderitz.

  • In just four years, the town was transformed from a small, remote fishing port,

  • into one of the most important cities in Southern Africa.

  • Still today, very little has changed aroundderitz.

  • The most prosperous businesses are still where they were a hundred years ago,

  • and are still run by the descendants of those first colonists.

  • And the city itself, though it has changed slightly more,

  • still retains the atmosphere of a remote frontier town.

  • deritz is today a sleepy, somewhat surrealist German colony.

  • Just like a typical, small Bavarian town,

  • but transposed to one of the most remote corners of Southern Africa,

  • where the wind blows furiously all year round.

  • The railway disappeared a long time ago,

  • but a magnificent road connects the town with the outside world.

  • deritz still lies well off the beaten track,

  • stranded in the desert, between two enormous diamond-producing regions,

  • which are prohibited zones, and heavily guarded.

  • The majority of the streets are still sand,

  • and the houses are painted in bright colours, to break the monotony of the landscape.

  • The town is surrounded by almost endless diamond deposits,

  • but these are transported directly to South Africa,

  • and have very little influence on the local economy.

  • Nonetheless, Lüderitz remains prosperous,

  • thanks to the same activity which was the reason it was founded

  • fishing.

  • Due to the cold Benguela current, these waters are the largest,

  • richest fishing grounds in the South Atlantic.

  • The entire city owes its living to the hake, lobsters and seaweed,

  • which provide work for over 5,000 people.

  • This industry is, after diamonds, the second largest source of income for the Namibian government.

  • But long before the arrival of the White Man, a nomadic people,

  • once to be found throughout the continent of Africa,

  • had sought final refuge in the Namib and Kalahari deserts.

  • They were probably the last survivors of the hunter people

  • that had been persecuted and displaced by the Bantu tribes who arrived from the north.

  • Those who did not manage to escape into the desert were exterminated or enslaved,

  • first by the Bantues and the Hottentots themselves,

  • and later by the European conquerors,

  • who rather contemptuously named them Bushmen.

  • In the sacred mountains which are home to the spirits,

  • the drawings carved into the rock are irrefutable evidence that,

  • six thousand years ago, the Bushmen already inhabited these lands.

  • Nowadays, the majority of the 100,000 Bushmen that live in the Kalahari desert

  • are to be found in remote ghettos, in subhuman conditions.

  • Most of their cultural heritage has been lost.

  • They now rarely hunt, and subsist on the tiny benefits they receive from the government.

  • There is a great deal of alcoholism

  • it’s the only way they have of killing time.

  • The authorities are trying to introduce agriculture and livestock farming,

  • but these people who, for over 20,000 years have been hunter-gatherers,

  • are finding it very difficult to adapt to this lifestyle.

  • Some of them work for the White Men, or for neighbouring tribes,

  • as hunters, farm-workers, or herdsmen,

  • in conditions of near slavery,

  • in exchange for food, clothes and tobacco.

  • Historically, the neighbouring tribes have treated them as pariahs, with no rights.

  • Since 1992, Amnesty International has been denouncing

  • the abuses and torture they suffer at the hands of the military.

  • Little by little, the situation is getting better

  • in Botswana, for example, which, in 1998,

  • enjoyed the strongest economic growth in the world.

  • But still, the Bushmen are the most extreme example of the poverty

  • and underdevelopment which has not been eradicated.

  • Little by little, they are losing ground,

  • their territory reduced to an ever-smaller area.

  • Fortunately, however, there are still families

  • who refuse to give up their culture and their traditions,

  • and try to survive in the most remote regions of the Kalahari.

  • Chonwati is a small settlement, inhabited by just four families, a total of 14 people.

  • The Bushmen live in small, scattered groups, adapting to whatever the land can offer,

  • Kushai, Samgao, Tuka and Bo are the heads of the Chonwati family.

  • Several days ago they ran out of meat, the basis of their diet,

  • and so have decided to set out to try to catch a hare in the area around the village.

  • Politically and socially, the Bushmen are organised into groups with no designated leader,

  • though authority is assumed by the oldest or the most skilled of the active members.

  • Each group is made up of a number of hunters,

  • generally related, and their wives and children.

  • The group normally moves around a limited territory,

  • which they don’t leave

  • this is their hunting ground and, though the limits are not well defined,

  • and there is no specific obligation to respect them,

  • other groups would never enter, so no one needs to defend them.

  • The technique they use to catch the hares is simple, but extremely ingenious.

  • Their only tool is a long, very flexible rod, with a hook at one end,

  • which