Whether traveling by train or vehicle between Windhoek to South Africa or westward toward Luderitz, travelers pass through the small town of Keetmanshoop. This town of approximately 22,000 residents serves as the economic and commercial center of south Namibia. While founded in 1814 by the first missionary to the area, Johann Georg Schoder, the town owes its name to Johann Keetman, a German industrialist who helped fund the establishment of the mission.
The town offers everything that both locals and travelers might need with the usual assortment of supermarkets, auto parts shop, a cinema, large library, hardware store, outfitters, nice restaurants and hotels. In addition to the modern amenities of the town, reminders of the past exist. The Rhenish Mission Church, built in 1895, was declared a historic monument in 1978 and currently serves as the Keetmanshoop Museum. Built in the Gothic style using Namibian stone, this church ranks as one of the country’s architectural landmarks.
Keetmanshoop enjoys perfect weather conditions for the raising of Karakul sheep. While some sheep provide lambskin for commercial uses, the majority provide wool for use in the creation of carpeting or other heavy fabrics.
Harsh conditions in the hot, dry lands in southern Namibia have given rise to some interesting vegetation and landscapes. Not far from Keetmanshoop lies the Kokerboom or quiver tree forest. Growing in very arid and rocky soil, these succulent plants can live 200 to 300 years. In the past, natives hollowed out the branches of the tree and created quivers to hold arrows, giving this plant its common name of quiver tree.
On Farm Gariganus, where the quiver trees survive, another oddity of nature exists. The unique formations of massive boulders called Giant’s Playground appear stacked in a haphazard manner, many times seeming to defy gravity.
Another amazing natural phenomenon located near Keetmanshoop is Fish River Canyon, the largest canyon in Africa and the second largest in the world. Water flows through the canyon only intermittently thus giving it an arid, stony appearance where only drought-resistant vegetation can live.
Keetmanshoop serves as a unique crossroads with many uses for those living in or traveling through this harsh environment.