Kimberly’s Diamond Mining Legacy

Diamonds have long been a sought after treasure – for their monetary worth but also for their aesthetic value. These pretty pieces of crystalline carbon have become the ultimate paradox for many a man, causing them to give up a reasonably comfortable life in favour of hard work and the hope of possible riches which are seldom attained. South Africa has had a long-standing reputation as a leading producer of two of the world’s most valuable commodities – diamonds and gold.

South Africa’s diamond mining legacy started in 1866 when a young man by the name of Erasmus Jacobs found a pretty stone while playing on his father’s farm. Jacobs took the stone home where it was spotted by their neighbour, Schalk van Niekerk, who offered to buy it from the boy. However, the Jacobs felt the stone was worthless and they gave it to him. The boy’s toy ended up being the 21.25-carat ‘Eureka’ diamond that started the Kimberley diamond rush.

By 1871, numerous other diamonds had been found in the area and three different sites had been opened up for digging. It was the Colesberg Kopje that proved to provide the biggest harvest and before long some 50 000 people had come from around the world to try and claim some of this precious bounty. The town that sprang up around the kopje was made of tents and badly constructed wood and iron houses and those living in the area had little or no access to drains or clean water. It wasn’t long before the kopje was not more and the diggings began to hollow out the ground. This massive hole got deeper and deeper until it reached a depth of about 18 meters. At this point it seemed that the diamonds had run out but diggers found – much to their delight – that the harder blue rock beneath the soil they had been digging yielded even more gems than the soil did.

By the time this happened, some 1 600 individuals each owned an area in the hole that was approximately 10 meters by 10 meters. As they dug, it became harder and harder to get the gems out of the holes and so a vast network of pulleys and ropes was set up over the hole. Those who did well bought up smaller claims until the majority of the area came to be owned by only a handful of people. These were Cecil Rhodes, Charles Rudd and Barney Barnato. These three eventually merged to form De Beers Consolidated Mines. De Beers still controls most of the world’s diamond markets and is a household name in many parts of the world.

The diamond rush in Kimberly has left its mark on the earth’s surface in the form of a incredibly big hole. The Big Hole in Kimberly is the largest man-made excavation in the world. It has a circumference of 1.6 km (1 mile) and a 13.38 ha (33 acre) surface area. It is roughly 215 meters (705 ft) deep and has yielded 14 504 566 carats. Today the pulleys and mineworkers have abandoned the site to the elements and this massive hole has become a popular tourist attraction. If you’re going to be visiting Kimberly, we recommend you make a stop and learn more about this amazing hole.