The smallest and most down at heel of the Triangle towns, OTAVI seems a forgotten place. Most of the action happens outside town, at the flagship Total petrol station and major truck stop, complete with ATM, neighbouring bar-restaurant and biltong shop, on the main crossroads east of the centre. Here the B1 divides: heading northwest to the population centres of Oshakati and Ondangwa, or northeast along the B8 towards the Trans Caprivi Highway. Note the heavily irrigated areas along this initial stretch of the B8, where the town’s original springs – long known to nomadic Hai||om and Damara groups – are located.

Dominating the skyline as you drive into the nondescript town are the gleaming grain silos of the maize and millet mill, across the railway track. It was the arrival of the railway from Swakopmund in 1906 that marked the town’s boom period. The German colonial mining company, the Otavi Minen und Eisenbahngesellschaft (OMEG), completed what was the longest narrow-gauge track in the world at the time – on the back of slave or enforced labour – in order to transport the copper being mined at Tsumeb and Kombat down to the coast and onto ships bound for Europe. Once the copper deposits were exhausted, the town’s fortunes slumped. So far, the new gold mine and cement factory in the area do not seem to have had the economic impact on Otavi that its 4000 inhabitants were anticipating, with Otjiwarongo appearing to benefit more from the mine.

A few kilometres north of town, signposted off the B1, stands the unremarkable Khorab Memorial. Of interest only to colonial history buffs, as there’s little to see, it marks the site where in World War I, on June 9, 1915, the Schutztruppen, under the ubiquitous Lieutenant-Colonel (by then) Victor Franke, finally surrendered to Louis Botha’s South African Union troops, signing the Khorab Peace Treaty six days later.

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