The howling desert wind hurries through the vacuum of the Namib Desert, almost like a giant ghost, lifting the world's largest sand dunes from one side of the road to the other.

There is no other sound or movement, just that dry whipping force, so powerful that road signs warn of its danger with one word: "sand." It is considered the most serious threat to life in this corner of Africa.

Each morning giant bulldozers, much like those used for snow removal in other parts of the world, move out from the tiny desert-border town of Luderitz to clear the roads so the trickling morning traffic can get through.

As dawn peeked through on one recent day, a Luderitz resident sighed as he looked toward a massive mound, more than 150-feet high. "Yesterday it was over there," pointing to a site on the other side of the road. "I've lived here for 15 years, but it never stops amazing me."

The Namib, the world's oldest desert, so dominates all aspects of life in this territory that it has been chosen as the official name - Namibia - once the country, now known as South-West Africa, gains independence.

Much of the country is uninhabitable because of the desert. Namibia is four times the size of Great Britain, but its population numbers only 800,000 - 1/65th of Britain's.

Stretching along the Atlantic coast, the Namib has mode the shoreline so dangerous it is now called the "skeleton coast," notorious for findings of bleached bones and ship wrecks. The only port along the 900-mile coast lies where the Namib breaks.

There are other victims. The remains of the ghost town of Kolmanskop, abandoned in 1950, have almost been buried by the dunes or ripped apart by the chilling daily gales that gust up along the Atlantic from the Antartic.

Props and customes left backstage in the Kolmanskop theater are eerily covered with sand, as is the cloakroom, the reception hall and the adjoining restaurant kitchen. A spider's web dos not stand a chance against these forces. After 27-years, the entire complex is still clean, except for the mini-dunes inside.

But underneath those shifting sands is one of the keys to Namibias future place in the world: diamonds. Namibia is believed by local geologists to have the richest diamond deposit in the world.

Hidden just beneath the sand's surface, the gems are recovered comparatively easily after the top layer is removed. Miners from the giant Anglo-American Corp., which holls the largest concession in Namibia, simply stand on the bedrock sweeping with an ordinary handbroom into buckets.

Then five women, called "sorters," use tweezers andwide metal knives to shift through the bits of gravel and diamonds. Locked into a room deep inside the mining complex, they sort through up to three and one-half tons of gravel each month, at lightning speed.

Approximately 6,500 carats of diamonds are retrieved each day - or almost two million carats a year - at the Anglo-American complex at Oranjeimund. 90 per cent are gem quality, so outstanding they are marketed all over the world.

The area is so rich that mines have been troubled since the early days by freelance prospectors who pitch up to strike it rich with their own little digs, even though the concessions have been fenced off and guarded closely.

It takes government and company permission even to get into the oasis town of Oranjemund, built up out of the desert just to house the miners. In about 20 years, when this mine runs dry, it too will become a ghost town.

Mining officials will not disclose the worth of their findings. But the income - 49 per cent of which goes to the outh South African government under the Precious Stones Act - will play a significant role in bettering the lives of Namibians once they break from South Africa, which has administered the former German colony since a controversial League of Nations mandate after World War 1.

Blacks and colored, who make up 88 per cent of the population, make only about $325 a year, according to U.S. State Department figures. The remaining white population averages more than $5,000. Non-whites are required to live in segregated townships outside the "white" cities or in tribal homelands. No blacks are allowed to own businesses.

But all that will begin to change with independence and majority rule and the return of diamond tax revenues from the South Africa government to their own purses. Namibia could become one of the few African countries to support itself.

Blacks historically have called the Namib "the land made by god in anger." But the treasures hidden under this vast, angry desert may also make them rich.