Kimberley is the provincial capital of the Northern Cape. It is in the Sol Plaatje Municipality of the Frances Baard District and has a population of just over 210,000 people.
Kimberley is a prosperous, thriving city, worthy of the title ‘Diamond Capital of the world’. Lacking the furious pace of South Africa’s larger urban giants, the Victorian grandeur of stately buildings complement the modern buildings towering over them.
In 1871, five years after the finding of a diamond further south on the banks of the Orange River near Hopetown, the De Beers brothers gave Dutch diamond-prospectors permission to dig on their small farm. An 83.5 carat diamond was found on the slopes of the small Colesberg Kopje (hill), which led to the biggest diamond rush into the area.
As miners arrived in their thousands, the digger camp of ‘New Rush’ rose from the dust. In 1873 it was re-named Kimberley after John Wodehouse, 1st Earl Of Kimberley and British secretary of state for the colonies.
Colesberg Kopje became an indentation and then a large crater – this is the Kimberley diamond mine ‘Big Hole’, which closed to diamond mining in 1914, and which now forms part of a recently upgraded (2006) and exciting open-air museum.
Galeshewe, the satellite township that adjoins Kimberley, was originally built under the apartheid laws to house the area’s African population and is still largely populated by African people. The township’s existence dates from 1871 and for many years it was known as Number Two Location, until 1952 when it was named after Chief Galeshewe of the Batlhaping tribe. He was an important figure to the local African population and spent many years in jail after he rebelled against the Cape Colony Government several times to protect his people.
A town of great innovation
The Kimberley Club on Du Toitspan Road was established in August 1881. Among its more illustrious past members, it counts Cecil Rhodes, Leander Starr Jameson, Charles Dunnell Rudd, Barney Barnato, Sir Ernest Oppenheimer and Harry Oppenheimer.
Kimberley was the home of South Africa’s first stock exchange. Situated in Ebden Street, it was officially opened on 2 February 1881 by mayor Moses Cornwall. The exchange quickly became too small for all the business which was being conducted there.
In December 1882 the exchange was gutted by fire and the offices moved to the Craven Hotel as a temporary solution. The architect Robert Day designed a new exchange which opened on the corner of Christian and Church Streets. The boom was short-lived and by the time the building was completed very few transactions were taking place.
The exchange finally ceased operations in March 1894 and the company was liquidated in 1903. The building was used as a town hall in 1898, during the siege it housed displaced persons, later it was used by the Ohlsson’s Brewery until it was demolished in the 1950s.
In September 1882 Kimberley was renowned as the first town in the southern hemisphere to install electric street lighting.
The rising importance of Kimberley in the late 1800s led to one of the earliest International Exhibitions in the southern hemisphere to be staged here in 1892. Opened on the 8th of September by Sir Henry Loch, Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, it presented exhibits of art, including paintings from the royal collection of Queen Victoria, as well as mining machinery and other implements.
South Africa’s first School of Mines opened in Kimberley in 1896, later relocating to Johannesburg.
General van der Spuy Drive is the location of South Africa’s first Flying School. Started in 1913, pilots of the South African Aviation Corps, later the South African Air Force, were trained here. A replica of the Compton Paterson trainer biplane is on view.
The elegant cream and white City Hall is built in Roman Corinthian style. Situated on the corner of Old Main Street and Transvaal Road in the city centre, it dates from 1899, just before the the Siege of Kimberley at the start of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).
This combination of elegance and superior workmanship was designed by architect, Fergus Carstairs Rogers (1864-1927) who was educated at Dollar Academy and George Watson’s School (Edinburgh, Scotland). He went to London before emigrating to Kimberley where he commenced independent practice 1892.
The Siege of Kimberley
On 14 October 1899, Kimberley was besieged at the beginning of the Anglo-Boer War. The siege was only lifted on 15 February 1900, but the war continued until May 1902. By that time the British had built one of the first concentration camps at Kimberley to house Boer women and children.
The Magersfontein Battlefield museum is about 30km south of Kimberley. Its original gun positions, trenches and other defences intact, it is the site of General Piet Cronje’s crushing defeat of Lieutenant-General Lord Methuen, leading a British relief column to the besieged Kimberley. Today the museum displays uniforms, equipment, weapons, documents and photographs from both armies, together with an intense audio-visual experience, bringing one of the Anglo-Boer War’s most important and decisive battles back to life.
Mokala National Park
The Honoured Dead Memorial at the crossroads of Dalham & Oliver Roads was designed by Sir Herbert Baker and built at the behest Cecil Rhodes to honour those who died defending Kimberley during the siege.
‘Long Cecil’, the field gun made and used during the siege of Kimberley, is mounted on the stylobate surrounded by shells from the Boer ‘Long Tom’. Built of Zimbabwean sandstone, it bears an inscription by Rudyard Kipling and bronze plaques by Kipling’s father.
The famous McGregor Museum is housed in the Sanatorium on Atlas Street. The Sanatorium was built in 1897 at Cecil Rhodes’ instigation as a hotel and health resort, becoming his home during the four-month siege. Displays include natural history, the Siege of Kimberley, a Hall of Religions and the acclaimed Ancestors Gallery, depicting 3 million years of human history in the Northern Cape.
Dunluce in the Kimberley suburb of Belgravia is one of the city’s most elegant houses. Designed by the architect DW Greatbatch and built at the end of the 19th century, it was the residence of the merchant John Orr, whose family stayed there until 1975. The house was then bought by the McGregor Museum, with all its furniture, kitchen utensils, linen, books and photographs – some dating back to 1902 when the Orr family moved into the house.
With over 400 rock engravings, the Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre on the way to Barkly West is one of South Africa’s premier Khoisan rock art sites.
The Alexander McGregor Memorial Museum in Chapel Street is the original Museum built in 1907 in memory of the former mayor. Today, as a satellite of the McGregor Museum, it houses displays on Kimberley’s suburban and township development.
The Africana Library in Du Toitspan Road houses missionary Robert Moffat’s personal copy of his Setswana translation of the Bible. This library is a rich repository of books, manuscripts and photographs portraying life in the Northern Cape.
Sol Plaatje, a founding member of the African National Congress and its first Secretary General, lived in a house in the former Malay Camp area (now Kimberley’s Civic Centre). His house in Angel Street is now a museum.
The Duggan-Cronin Gallery in Egerton Road depicts indigenous African people before the Western influence could drastically change their own traditional lifestyles. It houses some 8,000 photographs taken by Irishman Alfred Duggan-Cronin between 1919 and 1939.
The last resting place of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, founder and first president of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), is in Naledi Street, Galeshewe, Kimberley. He was arrested after the 1960 Sharpeville massacre and sentenced to imprisonment on Robben Island. After nine years he was released and lived under a house arrest in Kimberley until his death in 1978.
The Oppenheimer Memorial Gardens on Jan Smuts Boulevard is a memorial to Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, mining magnate and former mayor of Kimberley. Surrounded by a rose garden, the Miners Memorial or Diggers Fountain, comprising a fountain and statue of five miners holding up a sieve, was erected to honour diamond diggers, past and present.
The Spoornet Museum at Kimberley railway station documents the development of the railway and transport systems of the region.
The William Humphreys Art Gallery at the Civic Centre on Jan Smuts Boulevard is one of the most important galleries in the country. It houses a range of South African works, as well as 16th and 17th century British, Flemish and Dutch Old Masters.
The Northern Cape’s Legislature building in Kimberley was opened in 2003. It is a truly inspiring work of art in terms of the creativity that has been unleashed in its construction and is a must-see for locals and tourists alike
For the bird watcher, Kamfersdam just outside Kimberley on the Transvaal Road, is home to one of Africa’s largest flamingo colonies.