Kimberley – The city of Diamonds

Travelling into Kimberley I had mixed feelings, feelings of awe at the hustle and bustle of the city and one of immense feeling of loss for a bygone era, as the great days of Kimberley have long since passed.  The few Diamonds left are either too deep to recover out of the volcanic pipes , or  just too well hidden in the earth.   The discovery of a shiny white pebble in the late 1866-1867 by a young lad Erasmus Jacobs on the banks of the Orange River dragged South Africa into the modern age of Industry, when the discovery of diamonds were made on the farm of Nicolaas De Beer 18 miles from Barkley West.  It brought about the biggest rush of diggers the world has ever seen. We have all heard that Diamonds are forever and that they were formed billions of years ago, and it is said that some are older than the stars, and who are we to dispute that.  I do remember a quote by the famous actress Gil St John who said “Diamonds are forever, sadly my youth is not” and so it is with everything in life, it passes. That being a fact one is still regaled by fables of yesteryear as they evoke romance and a bit of intrigue, one such fable is about how the diamonds came to be in Kimberley.  I found this little story in a book written by Steve Lunderstedt given to me by the Kimberley Club, founded in 1881 and thought it fun to share with you. It originated from the romantic notions of the diggers that have long since reached their final resting place.

After the passing of many moons, and when there was a great sorrow in the land, a spirit pitying the wants and difficulties of mankind, descended from heaven with a huge basket filled with diamonds. The spirit flew over the Vaal river, starting beyond Delport’s Hoop, and dropping diamonds as it sped on part Barkley West and Klipdam along to the place called Kimberley. While flying the spirit scattered handful of gems from its huge basket. When reaching Kimberley, where at the time the largest trees grew, one of the spirits’s big toes got caught in a branch of a Camel thorn tree.  The spirit tripped  and in so doing upset the basket, emptying out all the diamonds, and so forming the Kimberley mines.

However, Kimberley is not just all about Diamonds and one would be amiss in thinking that.    Kimberley is this gem of a place, where people are warm and friendly, and the weather fantastic for holiday makers, and the city has the most beautiful historical buildings and architecture dating back to the 1800’s among quite a few other attributes.  Kimberley is about nature conservation, and you need only to visit the conservation initiatives of De Beers and the Oppenheimer family that make up the Diamond route, which starts at Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve in the north of the country and goes through the Karoo ending in the evocative Namaqualand on the West coast.  The diverse habitats such as woodlands, riverine forests, and savannah are but a few of the pleasures to be enjoyed.  The Diamond route is also home to over 500 species of South African bird species.  Adding to the list of birds there is also over 50 mammal species, including white and black rhino, sable, roan and antelope.

Kimberley definitely caters for the cultural and art lover as there are the most incredible museums such as the McGregor Memorial Museum, Duggan–Cronin Gallery, Williams Humphrey Art Gallery, The Sol Plaaitjies Museum, and The Big Hole Mine Museum.  For the aviation enthusiast there is the Pioneers of Aviation Museum.  The Magersfontein Battlefield Museum is set in the nature reserve close to Kimberley.  I remember in our history lessons  at school, (which I might  add was brought alive by a fantastic history teacher) we were regaled by tales of  Kimberley, and men of stature such as  Barny Bernato, Cecil John Rhodes, and Nicolaas De Beer, Alfred Beit, and Ernest Openheimer,  and how they shaped the history through the Diamond Fields in Kimberley. The effect they had  on the economy of South Africa in the 1880’s till this day. It was therefore quite e thrill to walk in the streets and experience the ghosts of the great men that shaped such a big part of South African history.

I was fortunate to be able to do the tour through Kimberley of the historical buildings accompanied by a registered Tour Guide and view the old historical buildings and also hear the stories behind the story of each building.  Some stories were sad while others were actually quite fun. Some of these buildings were apparently haunted and made for some interesting tales. Most of the Guest houses were rich in history and situated in homes that were once occupied by the great men such as Oppenheimer and Cecil John Rhodes.   I was very fortunate that I could share in the experience with a registered tour guide. I know people usually like to discover things for themselves, but the vast history and architecture make it necessary to have a guide so that the old buildings and their history actually come alive for you the traveler.  I was able to go inside the St Cyprian Cathedral, which I would not have been able to do if I was not accompanied by a tour guide I might add, and experience the lead glass windows some still dating back to when the church was build in stages from 1907.  The historical houses that I just drove passed before now became alive through the eyes and stories of the registered tour guide, it became places worth seeing as they all had history of the people who actually lived there. With some imagination you could transport yourself back to the era of Grand Balls, Gentleman’s clubs, Tea on terraces rich with the scent of roses in bloom, and also imagine the games of croquet played on the lawn.  This being a sweltering hot day in Kimberley brought a smile of joy to my face as I realized that I was dressed in cool cottons and loose fitting clothes, unlike all those layers of clothing i.e. corsets, petticoats—layers of it, and then still the dresses with high collars and long sleeves the ladies had to wear while having to entertain guests and friends to tea.

However, that aside, there is much to experience in Kimberley and we can only urge you to experience it first hand, the culture, history, ghosts, the beauty and the warmth of a beautiful city, be warned though that it will take more than a few days to discover all there is to enjoy, so make the time as you will not regret it.


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