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Namibia’s White Gold

white goldWe often hear about the dangers of too much salt in our diet. But salt is essential for life. In fact, it’s been referred to as White Gold because of its value in a wide variety of applications.

The white mineral is a small but significant player in Namibia’s economy. Visitors to Walvis Bay, are often surprised to see snowy white mountains south of town. Area salt works are among the largest solar evaporation plants in Africa.

Table salt is only one of the end products.

Here are some salt facts you may find surprising.

  1. There are about 30 different types of salt.
  2. Sodium chloride makes up most of the 3.5 percent salt content of seawater. If the oceans were to dry up, their floors would be covered with a salt layer 60 metres thick. At least 48 metres would be pure table salt.
  3. Ancient Egyptians gathered salt from evaporated seawater or desert deposits and used it for seasoning, conserving food, and mummifying bodies.
  4. Ancient Greeks and Romans created salt gardens to evaporate salt. Roman soldiers received a small bag of salt as part of their pay. In fact, it’s where the word salary
  5. Celts became very wealthy by exporting salt they mined in the Alps or extracted from natural brine springs.
  6. Namibia has two sources of salt: the ocean and interior depressions and pans where a body of water has evaporated, such as Soussuvlei.
  7. Sea salt production is extremely eco-friendly, much of it relying on sun, wind, and technology. Seawater pumped from the ocean is evaporated, concentrated, crystallized, harvested, and processed. The plant in Swakopmund is registered as a nature reserve and is home to numerous bird species. It also supports guano collection and oyster farming.
  8. Salt ponds at Walvis Bay display beautiful dark pink, purple, and red colours. They originate from bacteria, which assist with evaporation by absorbing the heat of the sun, thus increasing the temperature of the brine.
  9. Fifty percent of salt produced at Walvis Bay goes for human consumption. The rest is used by the chemical industry to produce synthetic products such as plastic. It’s also used as an agricultural fodder supplement, fertilizer, and a preservative for fish processing.
  10. Namibian salt production, begun in 1914, took off in 1951 with the establishment of the chemical industry in South Africa. Still in its infancy, it’s constrained by lack of skilled labour, economies of scale, high transportation costs, and local energy costs.

Namibian exports salt primarily within Africa. The next time you use a salt shaker, however, think about the White Gold that has been valued by civilizations throughout history.

Stamps and Stories, Vol. 2, 50 Stories on Namibia’s Postal Stamps, Gondwana Collection Namibia, & NamPost, 2012.