Kimberley, the capital of the Northern Cape, is also often called the Diamond Capital of the World. Without the frenzied pace of larger cities, this city offers the lessons learned from the past, the convenience of modern facilities and the promise of a bright future, as its people rally round to ensure its growth and prosperity.
It is an enigmatic city, its character difficult to pin down. Modern goods are sold from antiquated buildings and hyper-modern structures reach towards the sky in a curious mix of old and new, modern and historic. Long-time inhabitants exchange friendly greetings on the city streets as they walk past historic buildings to enter a fast-food restaurant on the corner.
The history of Kimberley tells of success and vast wealth, but also of heartbreak and lost hopes. While the fortunes of some improved to such an extent that they went on to finance the development of the Witwatersrand gold mines, many came to the diamond fields with stars in their eyes, and found only disappointment. However, the tragedies did not stop new hopefuls from arriving every day, each new arrival contributing to the growth of a city.
Development started in 1871, when diamond deposits were found on the farm Vooruitzig, which belonged to the De Beers brothers. By 1872, a mining town, home to more than 50 000 people, had grown where once only the springbok roamed.
At first called “New Rush”, the name of the town was changed to Kimberley in 1873, in honour of the Earl of Kimberley, the British Secretary of State for the colonies at the time.
Within a short space of time, the haphazardly-planned tent town mushroomed into a city of substance and was the first in the Southern Hemisphere to install electric streetlights and the first in South Africa to have a stock exchange. At one time, Kimberley also had the dubious honour of being the town with the most pubs per person, in the world.
Galeshewe, the satellite township that adjoins Kimberley, was originally built under the apartheid laws to house the area’s African population and it 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 rebelling against the Cape Colony government several times to protect his people.
Adventure and Sport
Fly-fishing: Those in the know say that it is one of the most exciting angling challenges one can attempt – catching the spirited yellow fish along the 200-km stretch of the Vaal River that flows through the province. After you have triumphed over your tough, cold-blooded adversary, take time to lie on the banks of the river and appreciate the lovely scenery.
Cricket and rugby: The people of Kimberley are enthusiastic about their sport and there are several rugby and cricket fields and sport clubs. Visitors are often granted temporary membership. Kimberley is the home ground of the Griqua Gemsbok Rugby Team and the Griqua Diamonds Cricket Club.
Golf: The Kimberley Golf Club has been in existence since 1890. Every October, this club is a hive of activity as players come from all over to join in the 9 night, 8 day Festival of Golf known as the Barney Barnato.
Hunting: Many private farms in the Kimberley area cater for hunters. For more information, contact the Diamond Fields Tourism Office or the Northern Cape Hunters’ Association.
Riverton Pleasure Resort: A comfortable 27 km from Kimberley, on the banks of the Vaal River, lies the Riverton Pleasure Resort, where people can relax, enjoy the quiet and take part in water sports such as boating and fishing. Facilities include fully-equipped self-catering accommodation, a caravan park, a walk-in bird park, a powerboat jetty, a putt-putt course, swimming pools and a river ferry.
Archaeology and Palaeontology
Driekopseiland: Within easy travelling distance from Kimberley, near Plooysburg, lies Driekopseiland (Three Head/Hillock Island) where nomadic San tribes made more than 3 000 rock engravings on the glacial pavements of the bed of the Riet (Reed) River. These engravings are believed to be between 800 and 2 500 years old. Visitors are warned that, because they lie on the riverbed, these engravings are often under water, especially after heavy rains. San drawings most often depict San religious beliefs and experiences of the spiritual world while under the influence of religious trances. The Driekopseiland engravings are mainly abstract forms, but also include several animals that roamed the area at the time, humans, trees and geometric symbols.
Nooitgedacht Glacial Pavements: The sign pointing to the Nooitgedacht Glacial Pavements site is situated on the Barkly West road, 24 km from Kimberley. Travel a further 8 km along a gravel road to the site, which is marked by the ruins of an old house. The area has been marked off and signs request visitors not to damage any rocks. The formation of this geographic and archaeological feature started some 250 million years ago during an Ice Age when enormous glaciers slowly ground over the 2 500 million-year-old Ventersdorp lava. As they moved, gravel and rocks in the glacier damaged the surface, forming an uneven backdrop which the San later used as canvas for their rock engravings.
Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Tourism Centre: This development, 16 km from Kimberley, on the road to Barkly West, is a triumph for community tourism in the province and in South Africa. This rock art site is situated on a farm belonging to the !Xun and Khwe people and, in addition to giving visitors access to this important archaeological discovery, it also affords the !Xun and Khwe people an opportunity to be actively involved in preserving and benefiting from their ancestral legacy.
The modern visitors’ centre features an arts and craft shop, a tea room, an exhibition of San history and a modern auditorium, where visitors can watch a movie on San culture and history. There are also facilities for an audio-guided walk of the rock art site. The art and crafts sold in the shop are made by the local !Xun and Khwe artists and are fitting souvenirs of your Northern Cape trip.
Art and Crafts
William Humphreys Art Gallery: Kimberley is not to be outdone when it comes to arts and culture. The William Humphreys Art Gallery is situated in the heart of the city, in the civic centre in Jan Smuts Boulevard. Although the gallery focuses on South African art, it also features the works of Dutch and Flemish Masters of the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as the art of British and other European Masters. The gallery often hosts temporary exhibitions by major South African and international artists and is one of the few art museums that display San rock art.
Culture / Community Tourism
Galeshewe: As this satellite township is not as large as many other townships that adjoin cities, it offers the ideal opportunity to study South African township life. Community development projects have changed the face of the township somewhat and new government buildings are being built on the outskirts of the township – “Bringing government to the people”.
Confront the realities of separate development that millions still have to live with, but also take note of the similarities between people everywhere.
Township tours, conducted by experienced guides, are the best way to make sure that you visit all the historical and cultural sites.
The sites include the erstwhile Malay Camp, the Sol Plaatje House, the home of Robert Sobukwe and the graveyard. In the evening, the guide will take you to a shebeen, where you can have a drink with the local people. A stay in the guesthouse and conference centre in Galeshewe is also to be recommended.
Entertainment and Shopping
Flamingo Casino: The Flamingo Casino is a Southern Sun development and was named after the graceful pink, long-legged birds that frequent the area. It is on the outskirts of Kimberley, on the main road to Johannesburg and large signs mark the entrance to the casino. The casino offers a range of entertainment activities, a conference centre and a road lodge.
Flea markets: Kimberley houses a variety of flea markets at different venues. The Dunluce Arts and Crafts flea market is open to shoppers four times a year. Shoppers who do not like to buy en masse but prefer to buy something individual and unique will be sure to find it at the Dunluce Art Market. A flea market is held on the last Sunday of every month, opposite the Oppenheimer Gardens in Jan Smuts Boulevard.
Jewellery shops: Visit one of Kimberley’s jewellery stores where designer jewellery with diamond and semi-precious stones found in the area are on sale. The jewellery is often individually crafted, a unique memento of your trip to South Africa.
Shopping centres: The city of Kimberley has ultra modern shopping centres to cater for the seasoned shopper.
Fauna and Flora
Kamfers Dam: The Kamfers Dam wetland on the outskirts of Kimberley on the main road to Johannesburg has Natural Heritage status. The dam, with its extensive reedbeds, is fed by treated sewerage waters and is home to a large variety of resident, migratory and nomadic birds.
Some 186 species of birds live in or visit the wetlands, representing 62 avian families. However, the dam area is best known for the flocks of lesser and greater flamingoes that can be seen from far away as a large pinkish patch on the water.
Only when you are close by will you recognise the pink cloud as thousands of large white birds with their long pink legs, pink beaks, pink patches on their feathers and gracefully bowed necks.
History and Architecture
Africana Library: The Africana Library in Du Toitspan Road is one of the best research libraries in the country. One of its most precious documents is Robert Moffat’s personal copy of his Setswana translation of the Bible. The building, with its original wooden floors, shelves and floors and iron spiral staircase, is a fitting treasure house for its valuable contents and, if the stories about it can be believed, jealous ghosts still try to guard the secrets contained in the documents.
Battlefields Route: The N12 Diamond Fields Battlefields Route starts at Hopetown, 120 km south of Kimberley, and signs along the route indicate all the sites. Many experienced guides conduct tours of these sites. The Anglo-Boer War (1899 to 1902) was the greatest war ever fought on South African soil, a three-year war that left scars over the entire country, as bitter battles were fought between the Boer and British forces. Sites include the historic battlefields at Orange River Station, Belmont, Graspan, Modder River, Magersfontein, Langberg, Koedoesberg Drift and Carter’s Ridge.
Magersfontein is home to the best Anglo-Boer War museum in the country. A brochure is available from the provincial or local tourism office.
Belgravia Walk: A pleasant 2-km circular walk through the suburb of Belgravia, where some of the buildings date back to 1873, also affords an opportunity to visit other historical sites. Tourists can complete a self-guided walk that starts at the McGregor Museum in Chapel Street. The museum has a brochure with a map that indicates more than 30 sites.
Big Hole and Kimberley Mine Museum: You will not have seen Kimberley until you have paid a visit to the Big Hole and the Kimberley Mine Museum in Tucker Street, one of South Africa’s largest full-scale open-air museums. The museum town stands on the site of the original Kimberley Mine, which closed down in 1914 after it had yielded 2 722 kg of diamonds. The Big Hole was once a hillock, Colesberg Hill, but after 22,5 million tons of earth had been removed, it became the world’s largest man-made crater. Standing at the edge of the water-filled hole, one cannot help but admire the tenacity of man, digging 215 m into the earth without the help of a single piece of machinery. The buildings are typical of the building style of the time and include a church, diggers’ tavern, Barney Barnato’s Boxing Academy and several shops and houses, as well as the De Beers Directors’ private railway coach.
In fact, many of these buildings are the “real thing” and have merely been moved from their original locations. Tired visitors are brought back to the present by the wonderful taste of fresh scones and tea served in the tea room.
The Cenotaph and Cape Corps Memorial: William Timlin designed the Cenotaph in honour of the 400 Kimberley men who died during World War I. The names of the men who died during World War II were added later. The Cape Corps Memorial has recently been moved next to the Cenotaph and celebrates the men who were members of this famous corps. A German field gun forms the centrepiece of the memorial in Du Toitspan Road.
City Hall: This elegant cream and white building in Roman Corinthian style is situated on the corners of Old Main Street and Transvaal Road in the city centre. It dates from 1899, just before the Anglo-Boer War, and is a combination of elegance and superior workmanship, designed by architect, Fergus Carstairs Rogers.
Clyde N Terry Hall of Militaria: This museum is the culmination of a lifelong passion of a World War II veteran, Clyde Terry. His collection of all things military is housed in a building next to the Kimberley MOTH Centre. Clyde Terry junior constructed the building to house his father’s display of international military badges, uniforms, medals and other relics.
De Beers Head Office: This office building in the centre of Kimberley in Stockdale Street, was once the head office of Barney Barnato’s Kimberley Central Diamond Mining Company. Barnato was one of the few diamond rush millionaires. Today, the building is still integrally linked to the diamond trade and is the seat of the De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd Company.
Duggan-Cronin Gallery: Museums not only serve to preserve old things, but also tell the story of the people who made history. The Duggan Cronin Gallery in Egerton Road houses some 8 000 photographs, which Alfred Duggan-Cronin took from 1919 to 1939 while touring through Southern Africa. His photographs depict the people and lifestyles of the time and immortalises customs and scenes that would otherwise have been lost to us forever. The works of other photographers are also shown.
Dunluce: This architectural jewel, an elegant Victorian house at 10 Lodge Road, was built in 1897 and was declared a national monument in 1990. Appointments to visit it should be made at the McGregor Museum.
Dutch Reformed Church: The church dates back to 1871 but the present building in Long Street was built in 1885. In front of the building, the Concentration Camp Memorial honours the memory of those who died in the Newton Concentration Camp during the Anglo-Boer War.
Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Gardens and Diggers Fountain: The gardens, in Jan Smuts Boulevard, are named after Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, mining magnate and former mayor of Kimberley.
The Diggers Fountain, surrounded by a rose garden, is a fountain and a statue of five miners holding up a sieve and was designed by Herman Wald. The five diggers represent the five diamond mines of Kimberley and the statue honours the contribution that all diamond diggers made to the development of Kimberley.
Freddy Tait Golf Museum: The museum at the Kimberley Golf Club was the first golfing museum in Africa. The display includes the putter that belonged to the 1896 and 1898 British amateur golf champion, Freddy Tait. He was killed at Koedoesberg during the Anglo-Boer War.
Ghost Trail: Join the ghost trail and let a guide lead you in the footsteps of spirits who met sad and untimely deaths in the city that was built on the dreams of men. Visit buildings, such as the Africana Library and Rudd House, where too many people have witnessed unexplainable events for them to be mere coincidences, and experience the thrill of anticipation as you wait for its ghostly inhabitants to appear.
Great Kimberley North Walk: The 4 km route takes the visitor to some 40 historical sites to the north of the city centre and starts at the Savoy Hotel.
Halfway House: This historic watering hole in Du Toitspan Road is another relic of the diamond digging era and used to be the Halfway Hotel. It is a fair assumption that it is one of the very few places in the country where you can enjoy a beer without getting out of your car, in a modernised version of Cecil Rhodes’s habit to sit astride his horse and enjoy his drink.
Honoured Dead Memorial: Near the junction where five roads meet, at the highest point in Kimberley, stands this memorial in honour of the soldiers who defended the city during the Anglo-Boer War. Built at the insistence of Cecil John Rhodes, the Honoured Dead Memorial is situated on the corner of Dalham and Oliver Roads.
Designed by Sir Herbert Baker, it houses the vault that contains the remains of some British soldiers who died during the Siege of Kimberley. “Long Cecil”, the cannon at the base of the memorial, was built to defend the British against Boer artillery fire. The inscription on the memorial was written by Rudyard Kipling.
Jewish synagogue: The synagogue in Memorial Road was finished in 1902 and was built in Byzantine style.
Kimberley Club: This epitome of elegance was established in 1881. Some of its more important members were Cecil John Rhodes, Barney Barnato, Sir Ernest Oppenheimer and his son, Harry Oppenheimer.
Magersfontein: This important Anglo-Boer War site lies 31,5 km south of Kimberley on the airport road. The site of one of the most decisive battles of the war, 12 000 British were defeated by the troops of the Boer General, Piet Cronje, and his 8 200 men.
The original gun positions and trenches are still intact and the museum displays uniforms, weaponry, documentation and photographs that tell the full story from both the Boer and the British side. Close to the site is the Burgher Monument, erected at the gravesite of Boers killed in the Anglo-Boer War.
Market Square: The city of Kimberley originally developed around the square, which used to be the main trading area that served the diggers. It is right next to the elegant City Hall.
McGregor Museum: This magnificent building, surrounded by large, cool gardens evokes nostalgic visions of carriages arriving in the driveway and women in voluminous ball gowns posing at the top of the balustrade for the benefit of their admiring escorts.
The museum exhibits include an astounding geological selection of local and international rock varieties, fossils and minerals, the Hall of Religions, a display on the history of the region and an extensive display on the development of humankind, the Ancestors Exhibition. Many of the museum’s researchers are well-known specialists in their fields. In 1897, Cecil John Rhodes had it built as a hotel and health resort for the wealthy Kimberley crowd.
Rhodes stayed here for the duration of the Kimberley Siege and the museum still preserves the suite that he occupied. After serving several other purposes, the building became the headquarters of the McGregor Museum in 1971. The main museum is in Atlas Street, but several other historical sites in Kimberley are also under its administration.
Pioneers of Aviation Museum: The museum is in General Van der Spuy Drive, the site of South Africa’s first flying school. The first flying school in South Africa was started in 1912 and many members of the South African Air Force were trained in the Compton-Paterson biplane, a life-size replica of which is on display in the museum.
Rhodes Statue: The proud figure of Cecil John Rhodes, with a map on his lap, sits immortalised on his horse in Du Toitspan Road. Rhodes is one of the success stories of the diamond fields and after having made his fortune, he went on to play an important role in the business and politics of the country. A staunch imperialist, he was one of the main supporters of the attempt to unify South Africa under the British flag that ultimately resulted in the Anglo-Boer War.
Robert Sobukwe House: This house, in Naledi Street in Galeshewe, was once the residence of Robert Sobukwe, an important figure in South African history and a main role player in the process known as the rise of African political consciousness. Sobukwe became famous after breaking away from the ANC in 1958 because he did not regard the ANC policies as militant enough. He subsequently formed the PAC and under his leadership, it staged massive protests against the National Party government. Sobukwe was incarcerated on Robben Island for nine years after the Sharpeville Massacre. After he was released, and whilst living under house arrest in the township of Galeshewe, he practised law in Kimberley until his death in 1978.
Rudd House: This house at 5 -7 Loch Road, was built for HP Rudd, one of the mining magnates and a partner of Cecil John Rhodes, and has been fully restored to its original grandeur. The original building was a small square construction, to which the Rudd family kept adding until they had created this rambling home. Appointments for viewings should be made through the McGregor Museum.
School of Mines: This building in Hull Street was home to South Africa’s first school of mines. The school was later moved to the Witwatersrand and later became the core of the University of the Witwatersrand.
Seventh Day Adventist Church: The corrugated iron building on the corner of Blacking Street and Dyer Place was built in 1890. Seventh Day Adventists in South Africa and Australia regard it as their mother church.
Sister Henrietta Stockdale Statue: The statue of one of the most important historical figures of Kimberley is situated at St. Cyprian’s Cathedral in Du Toitspan Road. Sister Henrietta was a member of the Anglican Nursing Order of St Michael and All Angels and her efforts were responsible for the first state registration of nurses in the world.
Sol Plaatje Museum: Plaatje was a renowned author and journalist who played an integral role in the history of South Africa and was part of the rise of African political consciousness. His house, at 20 Angel Street, is a national monument and an institute for the study of African languages. Plaatje was a founder member of the African National Congress (ANC) and the first Secretary General of the organisation. He was the first black South African to write a novel in English (called Mhudi), made a significant contribution to South African journalism by recording events of the Anglo-Boer War and translated many Shakespearean works into Setswana. He died in 1932 and lies buried in the West End Cemetery.
Transport Museum: The museum on the Kimberley Train Station tells the story of railway developments in the area and has the cabin of a real steam locomotive on display.
Star of the West Pub: After a hot and sweaty day, come and enjoy a well-deserved brew, just like the miners of old, at the Star of the West pub in North Circular Road. The “Star” is South Africa’s oldest continuously operating bar and dates back to the 1870s. The bar counter and the shelves behind the bar are from the original building, but the drinks and refreshments cater to the tastes of the modern visitor.
Vintage Tram: Enjoy a historic journey in a historic vehicle that dates from 1887. Car No 3 was reintroduced to active service in 1985 to ferry tourists across town past historic buildings. The tram has a few regularly scheduled trips during the day and the journey commences at the Big Hole and Kimberley Mine Museum. It is the only active tram service in South Africa.
Mine tours: The Bultfontein Mine was excavated during the diamond rush and it is still in operation today. Surface tours of the mine are offered twice daily and it is the only diamond mine in the world that allows underground tours. The tours include a screening of a video about the history of Kimberley.