Kimberley and Rhodes

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?

big hole

pete & cecil

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12 Responses to Kimberley and Rhodes

  1. I used to worked for De Beers and spent a bit of time in Kimberley too. I have putative novel set there, during those early mining days when fortunes could be made and lost in a day. I think it was a fascinating time. However, the Rhodes and the mines have a lot to answer for: the migrant labour system that fuelled their work is the root of many of South Africa’s problems.

  2. Courtney says:

    but…what is the Big Hole??

  3. natalian says:

    Now that sounds like my kind of work – 2 hours and the rest of day spent at leisure. As for Rhodes quotes – it did have me spluttering in my tea! 😉 Arrogance indeed!

  4. I’m glad you’ve had time outside of work. I don’t know much about Rhodes–but his attitudes sound Rudyard Kiplingish, no?

  5. Pete says:

    Charlotte – Very interesting re your novel and I agree – a fascinating time. You’re so right about the migrant labour system, which really provided the base for apartheid, didn’t it?

    Courtney – See update above. A big hole in the ground, which has a lot of water!

    Natalian – I know. I really should have brought my laptop so I could have blogged. But I’m anxious about travelling so thought I should try and travel light. Colonialism is such a dirty word (and rightly so) but I still find it interesting.

    Lilian – Yes, does sound Kiplingish. If they were contemporaries then I’m sure they would have influenced each other. Rhodes was all about the Empire so he would have been fascinated with India.

  6. doctordi says:

    Damn. That’s a big hole!

    And Pete, that is NOT work. Nope. Definitely not (but good for you – a forced week of R & R – lovely!)

  7. litlove says:

    The Big Hole is not an attractive name, but the place itself looks quite impressive. I remember watching a TV mini-series about Cecil Rhodes that the BBC produced. It was rather good, but so many years ago that I can recall no details. I’m really glad you had an easy work trip; sometimes these things can be exhausting, so it’s good to have the occasional easy ride.

  8. Effendi says:

    Pete, only the man on the right looks slightly camp.

    Courtney, the Big Hole is NOW a big hole in the ground mostly filled with water. But it was one of the biggest open-cast diamond mines in the world.

  9. Pete says:

    DoctorDi – I know, and the water is about 200m deep. The work was actually great – but being away from home was difficult.

    Litlove – Yes, I agree – I think I deserved a break for once! Would be interested to read more on Rhodes, but he didn’t leave any diaries or many letters so a lot of it is conjecture.

    Effendi – Haha, you’re right. But then I was getting into role. The crossed leg for example.

  10. sandy says:

    Amazing how, in one hundred years, we can so radically change our acceptance of a predominant view such as colonialism/imperialism. Oh wait, that doesn’t have anything to do with USA’s war on Iraq and their oil, does it? :p

    As for the big hole, I’ve never seen or known about these. Is that water down in the hole? Need to read up on, apparently.

  11. Make Tea Not War says:

    I’ve been to the Big Hole when I was in Std 5 for our class Cape Tour. Good times. The water at the bottom of the hole was a very toxic green as I recall.

    In further trivia about me my great, great uncle, Reginald one Youngash was one of Cecil John Rhodes’s circle of young men. When CJR was dying Reg was dispatched to Salsbury to get medical supplies of some sort to save him. Unfortunately he did not get back in time.

  12. doctordi says:

    Now the Big Hole is starting to scare me. 200 m is deep.

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