I’m back from a week in Kimberley, which is famous for its diamonds and its Big Hole. I went with a colleague to do psychometric testing on would-be military recruits. We got off very lightly since not only did we fly rather than drive, we also stayed in a comfortable guest-house rather than in the officer’s mess, and we worked on average about two hours per day. The rest of the day was spent chatting, shopping, eating and drinking, reading and going to places of interest such as the Big Hole and the Mine Museum.
The diamonds on display at the Mine Museum were just as you would imagine diamonds to be – sparkling, polished, in varying sizes and shapes and colours, and with exotic names such as Eureka, Cullinan, and Jubilee. The story of Kimberley is a story of greed, of perseverance, ingenuity, big business, capitalism, power, politics, colonialism, of black and white, of race and class divisions, Boer and Brit.
The Big Hole was once the Colesberg Kopje before hundreds of diamond-hungry diggers descended on the place to dig for gems. This was in the early 1870s and it’s pretty amazing to see how modern mining was so profoundly influenced by the innovations of the first big mining company in South Africa, De Beers Consolidated Mines. The two big mining magnates of the time were Cecil John Rhodes (CJR) and Barney Barnato and De Beers was formed with the consolidation of these two men’s mining interests. I’ve never paid much attention to CJR before but seeing the town where he rose to prominence intrigued me. Who was CJR, I wondered as I posed for a campish picture with a life-size cutout of him in the McGregor Museum. Apart from De Beers, there’s the Siege of Kimberley and then Rhodes’ political career. There’s Rhodesia, Rhodes University, the Rhodes scholarships and his vast colonial project (Cape to Cairo). There’s also his probable homosexuality, which is intriguing because it’s so hidden.
Judging by his Wikipedia entry, Rhodes epitomised British colonial arrogance. Two quotes which survive:
“We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labour that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories.”
“I contend that we [British] are the first race in the world, and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race…If there be a God, I think that what he would like me to do is paint as much of the map of Africa British Red as possible…”
Update: For those who’ve never seen a big hole, I’m going to post my pic. And then a pic of me posing with CJR himself. A touch camp, perhaps?