In 1866, Erasmus Jacobs found a small brilliant pebble on the banks of the Orange River, on the farm De Kalk leased from local Griquas, near Hopetown, which was his father's farm. He showed the pebble to his father who sold it. The pebble was purchased from Jacobs by Schalk van Niekerk, who later sold it. It proved to be a 21.25 carat (4.25 g) diamond, and became known as the Eureka. Three years later Schalk van Niekerk sold another diamond also found in the De Kalk vicinity, the Star of South Africa for £11,200. The second diamond was promptly resold in the London market for £25,000.
In 1869, an even larger 83.50 carat (16.7 g) diamond was found on the slopes of Colesberg Kopje on the farm Vooruitzigt belonging to the De Beers brothers. Henry Richard Giddy recounted how Esau Damoense (or Damon), the cook for prospector Fleetwood Rawstone's "Red Cap Party", made the discovery on Colesberg Kopje after he was sent there to dig as punishment. Rawstorne took the news to the nearby diggings of the De Beer brothers — his arrival there sparking off the famous "New Rush" which, as historian Brian Roberts puts it, was practically a stampede. Within a month 800 claims were cut into the hillock which were worked frenetically by two to three thousand men. As the land was lowered so the hillock became a mine – in time, the world renowned Kimberley Mine.
The Cape Colony, Transvaal, Orange Free State and the Griqua leader Nikolaas Waterboer all laid claim to the diamond fields. The Free State Boers in particular wanted the area as it lay inside the natural borders created by Orange and Vaal Rivers. Following the mediation that was overseen by the governor of Natal, the Keate Award went in favour of Waterboer, who placed himself under British protection. Consequently, the territory known as Griqualand West was proclaimed on 27 October 1871.
Colonial Commissioners arrived in New Rush on 17 November 1871 to exercise authority over the territory on behalf of the Cape Governor. Digger objections and minor riots led to Governor Barkly's visit to New Rush in September the following year, when he revealed a plan instead to have Griqualand West proclaimed a Crown Colony. Richard Southey would arrive as Lieutenant-Governor of the intended Crown Colony in January 1873. Months passed however without any sign of the proclamation or of the promised new constitution and provision for representative government. The delay was in London where Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Kimberley, insisted that before electoral divisions could be defined, the places had to receive "decent and intelligible names. His Lordship declined to be in any way connected with such a vulgarism as New Rush and as for the Dutch name, Vooruitzigt … he could neither spell nor pronounce it." The matter was passed to Southey who gave it to his Colonial Secretary J.B. Currey. Roberts writes that "when it came to renaming New Rush, proved himself a worthy diplomat. He made quite sure that Lord Kimberley would be able both to spell and pronounce the name of the main electoral division by, as he says, calling it 'after His Lordship'." New Rush became Kimberley, by Proclamation dated 5 July 1873. Digger sentiment was expressed in an editorial in the Diamond Field newspaper when it stated "we went to sleep in New Rush and waked up in Kimberley, and so our dream was gone."
Following agreement by the British government on compensation to the Orange Free State for its competing land claims, Griqualand West was annexed to the Cape Colony in 1877. The Cape Prime Minister John Molteno initially had serious doubts about annexing the heavily indebted region, but, after striking a deal with the Home Government and receiving assurances that the local population would be consulted in the process, he passed the Griqualand West Annexation Act on 27 July 1877.
As miners arrived in their thousands the Hill disappeared and subsequently became known as the Big Hole or, more formally, Kimberley Mine. From mid-July 1871 to 1914, 50,000 miners dug the hole with picks and shovels, yielding 2,722 kg of diamonds. The Big Hole has a surface of 17 hectares (42 acres) and is 463 metres wide. It was excavated to a depth of 240 m, but then partially infilled with debris reducing its depth to about 215 m; since then it has accumulated water to a depth of 40 m leaving 175 m visible. Beneath the surface, the Kimberley Mine underneath the Big Hole was mined to a depth of 1097 metres. A popular local myth claims that it is the largest hand-dug hole on the world, however Jagersfontein Mine appears to hold that record. The Big Hole is the principal feature of a May 2004 submission which placed "Kimberley Mines and associated early industries" on UNESCO's World Heritage Tentative Lists.
By 1873 Kimberley was the second largest town in South Africa, having an approximate population of 40,000.
The various smaller mining companies were amalgamated by Cecil Rhodes and Charles Rudd into De Beers, and The Kimberley under Barney Barnato. In 1888, the two companies merged to form De Beers Consolidated Mines, which to this day today still retains a monopoly over the world's diamond market.
Very quickly, Kimberley became the largest city in the area, partly due to a massive African migration to the area from all over the continent. The immigrants were accepted with open arms, because the De Beers company was in search of cheap labour to help run the mines. Another group drawn to the city for money was prostitutes, from a wide variety of ethnicities who could be found in bars and saloons. It was praised as a city of limitless opportunity.
Five big holes were dug into the earth following the kimberlite pipes, which are named after the town. Kimberlite is a diamond-bearing blue ground that sits below a yellow colored soil. The largest, The Kimberley mine or "Big Hole" covering, reached a depth of and yielded three tons of diamonds. The mine was closed in 1914, while three of the holesDutoitspan, Wesselton and Bultfonteinclosed down in 2005.
On 14 October 1899, Kimberley was besieged at the beginning of the Second Boer War. The British forces trying to relieve the siege suffered heavy losses. The siege was only lifted on 15 February 1900, but the war continued until May 1902. By that time, the British had built a concentration camp at Kimberley to house Boer women and children.
The hitherto separately administered Boroughs of Kimberley and Beaconsfield amalgamated as the City of Kimberley in 1912.
Although a considerable degree of urban segregation already existed, one of the most significant impacts of Apartheid on the city of Kimberley was the implementation of the Group Areas Act. Communities were divided according to legislated racial categories, namely European (White), Native (Black), Coloured and Indian – now legally separated by the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act. Individual families could be split up to three ways (based on such notorious measures as the 'pencil test') and mixed communities were either completely relocated (as in Malay Camp – although those clearances began before Apartheid as such) or were selectively cleared (as in Greenpoint which became a ‘Coloured’ Group Area, its erstwhile African and other residents being removed to other parts of town). Residential segregation was thus enforced in a process which saw the creation of new townships at the northern and north-eastern edges of the expanding city. Institutions that were hard hit by the Group Areas Act, Bantu Education and other Acts included churches (such as the Bean Street Methodist Church) and schools (some, such as William Pescod and Perseverance School, moved while the Gore Browne (Native) Training School was closed down). Other legislation restricted the movement of Africans and some public places became ‘Europeans Only’ preserves in terms of the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act. The Native Laws Amendment Act sought to cleave church communities along racial lines – a law rejected on behalf of all Anglicans in South Africa by Archbishop Clayton in 1957 (in terms of which this aspect of apartheid was never completely implemented in churches such as Kimberley’s St Cyprian’s Cathedral).
Resistance to apartheid in Kimberley was mounted as early as mid-1952 as part of the Defiance Campaign. Dr Arthur Letele organized a group of volunteers to defy the segregation laws by occupying 'Europeans Only’ benches at Kimberley Railway Station – which led to arrest and imprisonment. Later in the year, the Mayibuye Uprising in Kimberley, on 8 November 1952, revolved around the poor quality of beer served in the Beer Hall. The fracas resulted in shootings and a subsequent mass funeral on 12 November 1952 at Kimberley’s West End Cemetery. Detained following the massacre were alleged ‘ring-leaders’ Dr Letele, Sam Phakedi, Pepys Madibane, Olehile Sehume, Alexander Nkoane, Daniel Chabalala and David Mpiwa. Archdeacon Wade of St Matthew’s Church, as a witness at the subsequent inquiry, placed the blame squarely on the policy of apartheid – including poor housing, lighting and public transport, together with "unfulfilled promises" – which he said "brought about the conditions which led to the riots."
Other prominent figures of the struggle against apartheid who had Kimberley connections include Robert Sobukwe, founder of the Pan Africanist Congress, who was banished (placed under house arrest) in Kimberley after his release from Robben Island in 1969. He died in the city in 1978.
Benny Alexander (1955–2010), who later changed his name to Khoisan X, and was General Secretary of the Pan Africanist Congress and of the Pan-Africanist Movement from 1989, was born and grew up in Kimberley. Another leading figure in Coloured politics in the apartheid era was Sonny Leon.
The Northern Cape Province became a political fact in 1994, with Kimberley as its capital. Some quasi provincial infrastructure was in place from the 1940s, but in the post-1994 period Kimberley underwent considerable development as administrative departments were set up and housed for the governance of the new province. A Northern Cape Legislature was designed and situated to bridge the formerly divided city. The Kimberley City Council of the renamed Sol Plaatje Local Municipality (see below) was enlarged. A new Coat of Arms and Motto for the city were ushered in.
With the abolition of apartheid previously ‘whites only’ institutions such as schools became accessible to all, as did suburbs previously segregated by the Group Areas Act. In practice this process has been one of upward mobility by those who could afford the more costly options, while by far the majority of Black people remain in the townships where poverty levels are high.
Major township residential developments, with 'RDP housing', were implemented – not without criticism concerning quality. There has been an increase in Kimberley’s population, urbanization being spurred on in part by the abolition of the Influx Control Act.
Also added to the city is the settlement of Platfontein created when the !Xun and Khwe community formerly of Schmidtsdrift and originally from Angola/Namibia acquired the land in 1996. Most of the community had moved to the new township by the end of 2003.
In 1998 the Kimberley Comprehensive Urban Plan estimated that Kimberley had 210,800 people representing 46,207 households living in the city.
By 2008 estimates were in the region of 250,000 inhabitants.
The shifts from frontier farm names to digger camp names to the established names of the towns of Kimberley and Beaconsfield – which duly amalgamated in 1912 – are outlined above. The only traces of any precolonial settlement within the city's boundaries are scatters of Stone Age artefacts and there is no record of what the place/s might have been called before the first nineteenth century frontier overlay of farm names. It lay beyond the areas occupied by Tswana people in the precolonial period. Sites such as the nearby Wildebeest Kuil testify to a Khoe–San history dating up into the nineteenth century.
In the post-1994 era the Kimberley City Council was renamed the Sol Plaatje Local Municipality after the area it served was expanded to include surrounding towns and villages, most notably Ritchie. Sol Plaatje, the prominent writer and activist, lived for much of his life in Kimberley. Similarly the erstwhile Diamantveld District Council became the Frances Baard District Municipality, with reference to the trade unionist, Frances Baard, who was born in Greenpoint, Kimberley.
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5 Atlas Street
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