The name “Tsumeb” is derived from the Hainkom Bushman word “Tsomsoub” meaning to dig a hole in loose ground” and from the Herero word “Otjisume” meaning “place of the frogs”. The Hereros’s (indigenous people of Namibia), gave it the name “Otjisume” because of varied colours and hues of the bright green, re-brown and grey streaks of the copper and lead ores on the rocky outcrops that resembled dried scum out of a waterhole and scattered on surrounding rocks.
The diverse mineralization originates in a volcanic pipe or throat which was filled to the brim with an astonishing richness of material. The pipe was discovered in prehistoric times and worked by several different indigenous people. When first located, the ore body protruded above the surface in the form of a low hill composed of minerals rather than rock and of brilliant variegated colours.
European explores and prospector were informed of this dazzling outcrop. On 12 January 1893, a prospector, Mathew Rogers, working for the South West Africa Company, reached the outcrop and in a report to this company stated:
“In the whole of my experience, I have never seen such a sight as was presented before my view at Tsumeb, and I very much doubt that I shall ever see another in any other locality”.
Rogers negotiated with the local tribe for rights to the outcrop and began a detailed assessment of the quantity of ore, its nature and viability of a mine in so remote a place. In 1900 the company formed to work concessions over the area. The Otavi Mining and Railroad Company sent a party of 33 miners under Christopher James to commerce mining. Two shafts were sunk into the hill of copper and a hint of the wonders, lying beneath the surface, was revealed.
In December 1900, the first shipment of ore was sent by ox wagon to Swakopmund. The mine was developed in the face of tremendous difficulties with transport, while narrow gauge railway was constructed from the coast. The railway reached Tsumeb on 24 August 1906 and within 12 months the little narrow-gauge trains had carried 25 700 tons of ore to the coast.
Tsumeb’s motto “Gluck Auf if derived from the German Miner’s greeting and means “May Luck be with you bring you safely up again”.