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THE DIAMOND INDUSTRY

The city of Kimberley in the background, with the Big Hole, the site of the 19th Century diamond rush, in the foreground. (Photo: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen on Wikicommons)

DE BEERS MOVE OF OPERATIONS TO JOHANNESBURG
DRAWS CURTAIN ON 135-YEAR HISTORY IN KIMBERLEY

 

On December 12, the De Beers Group announced that it would be relocating its Sightholder Sales activities in South Africa from Kimberley to Johannesburg, following a review of its sorting activities in South Africa.

In its statement, De Beers said the relocation was in support of the South African government’s strategy to consolidate the country’s mineral beneficiation sector in an area of the Gauteng Industrial Development Zone, which located in Kempton Park close to the OR Tambo International Airport, the largest hub for cargo air travel on the African continent.

De Beers explained that its decision to shift activities away from Kimberley was influenced by the fact that its only active diamond mine in South Africa today is Venetia, which is located in the northwestern Limpopo Province. It has had no mining activities in the Northern Cape Province, where Kimberley is located, since 2015.

De Beers will relocate around 120 employees from its Sightholder Sales business from Kimberley to Johannesburg, where they will begin work in January 2023.

 

DIAMOND RUSH LEADS TO CITY’S ESTABLISHMENT

It was a logical but poignant move, and in many respects it draws the curtain on a history that dates back more than 135 years, much of which Kimberley represented the very center of the world diamond trade.

The settlement that was founded in 1871 at the site of the largest and most lucrative diamond rush ever known, just 10 years later became the site of the first stock exchange in Africa, and in 1882 was the first city in the Southern Hemisphere and the second in the world after Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the United States to integrate electric street lights into its infrastructure

Du Toitspan Road in the Center of Kimberley in 1905 (Photo: Wikicommons)

The discovery of diamonds in the Northern Cape preceded the establishment of the xcity Kimberley. In 1866, a bright pebble found by a child on the banks of the Orange River near Hopetown was identified as a 21.25-carat diamond, which later became known as the Eureka.

News of the initial diamond discovery spread, and prospectors began arriving in the area. Additional diamonds continued to be found, including in 1869 the discovery of an 83.5-carat diamond, which became known as the Star of South Africa.

By 1870 diamonds were being extracted on the Bultfontein farm, which is now the site of modern-day Kimberley. These were “dry diggings,” as opposed to alluvial diggings, and were taking place in what was later was understood to be a volcanic pipe. That same year, diamonds were found in the adjacent Du Toit’s Pan, triggering another rush.

Prospectors would receive a 31-foot-square claim, on which they could dig for diamonds. Soon the area being mined was 12 acres. In this area there were some 4,000 people digging into the earth. It became a deep hole, which stood at the center of the growing town.

Initially, the informal settlement has been known as New Rush. But in 1873, the British Colonial authorities renamed it as Kimberley. It very soon became the largest city in the area, in part due to massive African migration to the area from all over the continent, drawn by the prospect of work. European immigrants were also welcomed.

The discovery of diamonds in the Northern Cape caught the attention of an Englishman, Cecil John Rhodes, who moved to the area with his brother. He began buying claims from other miners, becoming one of largest operators in the nascent diamond fields. His rival was another Englishman, Barney Barnato, who also was buying up claims. In 1883, they merged their operations into the Kimberley Central Mining Company, and in 1888 Barnato sold out to Rhodes, who formed De Beers Consolidated Mines, named after a family on whose farm some of the claims had been located.

Five big holes were dug into the volcanic kimberlite pipes, which are named kimberlite after the town. The largest pipe, on which was the Kimberley mine, reached a depth of 240 meters and yielded three tons of diamonds. It was closed in 1914, while three of mines – Dutoitspan, Wesselton and Bultfontein – closed down in 2005.

De Beers former headquarters at Stockdale Street in Kimberley. For many years the building served as the center of the conglomerate’s worldwide operation. (Photo:Janek Szymanowski on Wikicommons)

DE BEERS TAKES LEAVE OF KIMBERLEY

For years, De Beers headquarters was located in Kimberley, at 36 Stockdale Street, in a double storey building constructed in typical red brick. Erected in 1887, it is still stands, but its role largely today is largely testament to the company and industry that it housed and developed.

De Beers has promised that its remaining assets in Kimberley will used for the benefit of the city and the Northern Cape. “We are proud of our rich history in the Northern Cape, particularly in Kimberley, our birth city. Throughout this process, we have engaged extensively to support the needs of our employees and their families,” it said it statement announcing the move to the Johannesburg area.

De Beers said it will plans to invest an additional 43 million rand, or $2.5 million, in the Northern Cape in sustainable projects in basic and tertiary education, healthcare, beneficiation and enterprise development.