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Graham Williams & Louise Jones Travel Blog This is our journal logging our trip through Central and Latin America from July 2005 to the present date. We update it and add new pictures every two to three weeks. At the moment Will is travelling in South Africa, while Lou is living in Buenos Aires.For more background reading on our travels go to - http://journals.worldnomads.com/will/

Kimberley

SOUTH AFRICA | Sunday, 8 October 2006 | Views [2599]

The Kimberley Club.

The Kimberley Club.

This week I left Pretoria and took the bus to Kimberley. The bus headed down the motorway to Jo’berg, passing lots of distribution centres and multinational headquarters before reaching the leafy suburbs of North Johannesburg. Every building is heavily defended by razor wire and electric fences; even electricity substations at the side of the road have electric fences around them, presumably to stop them being stolen or tapped into? The CBD of Jo’berg had a very 60’s feel, there are very few new buildings and it had the air of a place you only go to if you have to. To the south of the city the landscape is of factory units and the gold mines of the Witwatersrand, with their winding gear and spoil heaps. Here also are the townships, which look like thousands of brightly coloured little boxes covering the landscape. Further out the houses are more like shacks made out of pieces of corrugated iron.

The bus took me across the High Veld though small Afrikaans country towns. Only the occasional mine and spoil heap breaks up the flatness of the landscape. There was a fantastic sunset of the kind you only get in Africa, where the yellow orange glow lingers across the horizon long after the sun has departed.

Kimberley has a very pleasant feel, it is not as tense as Pretoria, there are fewer razor wire and electric fences around and some people do venture onto the streets at night. It reminds me of a provincial English town, lots of brick 60’s public buildings, gardens with rose bushes, and a fine Cathedral and War Memorial. This town is very much off the backpacker route and I had been inspired to come here after reading a Wilber Smith historical novel (Men of Men) which describes how diamonds were discovered here, how the town was built up around the diamond diggings or Big Hole and how Cecil Rhodes took it all over. Surprisingly, no one I have so far met in Kimberley has read it.

There are still some fine colonial buildings in the town including the Kimberley Club, which at one time was one of the most exclusive in the world but which is now partly run as a hotel and where anyone can go and have a drink, which I did. Across the road from it is the Africana Library a wonderful building, now a research library, where I was given a guided tour and shown the some of the original documents related to the diamond diggings including the original map showing the patchwork of claims on the big hole, most of them very small indeed.

The Big Hole was a disappointment as the site is closed for redevelopment. All I could see from climbing a small hill and getting as close to the wire as possible was the rim. Still a sense of history and all that, especially as I had a drink at the ‘Star of the West’ the original diggers pub which is right next to the Hole.  

On one day I took a trip outside Kimberly, out to the Boer War Battlefield site at Magersfontein. On the way, we went though the local township, which has a mix of houses that have been renovated with electricity and running water and corrugated iron shacks. Even with the renovated houses there is no escaping the fact that these are two room dwellings no larger than the average Western garage and this is what the majority of South Africans live in.

Outside Kimberley you realize that you are on the edge of the Karahari desert. The landscape is semi desert, grassland with a few low growing trees, the sort of bush country that ones imagines most of Africa to be. Along the way I saw some Kudu (a large antelope), a small herd of Spingbok and some Ostriches, which in this area have all escaped from Ostrich Farms that were set up to provide feathers for the hat trade.

The Magersfontein Battlefield is dominated by a small range of hills or Koppies. The Highland Division was advancing on these to relieve the siege of Kimberley and had expected the Boers to be on top of the hills. Instead, the Canny Boers had dug trenches at the bottom of them so when the Scotsmen advanced at dawn, the Boer jumped up and shot them down. From the top of the hills there are great views across the countryside, and the Boer trenches are still visible below. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, there is a fine museum which shows a film about the battle.

After Kimberley I plan to move down to Bloemfontein in the Free State, and may go from there to Lesotho.

Written by Will

Tags: On the Road

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