Yesterday is history, today it is heritage.
Each and every building, museum, monument, memorial, cemetery or street in Kimberley belongs to every Kimberley resident and is every South African citizen’s heritage.
We must ensure it is looked after so that future generations will understand how we lived in days gone by.
Sadly, in Kimberley there is a great neglect of our heritage in what appears to be a systematic destruction of valuable historic commodities.
The main attractions
Tourists are not flocking to Kimberley post-pandemic as they are to Cape Town, the Garden Route, and the Kruger National Park.
But there are many visitors who do visit and admire the numerous historic buildings and museums, and an even smaller group move to tourism adventures such as battlefields, walking and hiking trails, rock art and architecture.
The major tourist attractions in the Kimberley area are the history of diamonds, the diamond discoveries, the mining thereof, and the personalities involved in such. Among these are the buildings and institutions connected to this history.
As an aside, statistics indicate that the Kimberley Mine Museum (which includes the Big Hole) attracts more visitors per annum than all the other museums in Kimberley combined.
There are other museums including the McGregor, the William Humphreys Art Gallery, Rudd House, Dunluce, Pioneers of Aviation, Terry Hall of Militaria, Sol Plaatje, Tait, Alexander McGregor Memorial and the Magersfontein Museum.
The five historic cemeteries within Kimberley have been and are still being vandalised, as are the modern cemeteries.
Speaking of heritage, what have we lost these last 15 years or so?
The original Kimberley Reservoir Wall is now a point to fill water tankers for areas without water.
The Masonic Temple in Beaconsfield is being renovated by the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA), but nothing has happened in months. It has been virtually knocked down and is unrecognisable.
The Star of the West, one of Kimberley’s oldest pubs, became a modern bar. The adjacent building, a corrugated iron building from the 1870s, was destroyed to allow parking for some ten vehicles at most. It is believed that the Star is opening shortly and has reverted to an “old time” bar
At the Cenotaph, at least four bronze plaques are gone forever, which featured the names of soldiers who enlisted for World War (WW) I and WW II.
The Sir David Harris plaque on his bust in Belgravia is stolen, as well as the General Tim Lukin plaque and tablet.
The Railway War Memorials for WW I and WW II on the station property are gone. The Gunner’s Memorial tabletfor WW I at the Moth Centre is gone.
The metalwork of the Long Cecil gun has been stripped from the gun, leaving only the carriage and barrel.
The Long Cecil gun lathe, once on display outside the old De Beers Workshops, has been stripped and sold for scrap.
The Don McHardy Memorial Fountain outside the railway station was destroyed and is now a car park.
Two of the Memorial Road houses built for the Viennese band of the 1892 International Exhibition, were burnt down and two have been destroyed by vandalism. Only two are left. The damaged buildings will not be repaired as the owner, the Department of Health, wants the property for an additional parking area.
The five historic cemeteries within Kimberley, including the more modern cemeteries, are victims to vandalism. Examples thereof are the theft of bronze memorial tablets at the entrance to the Pioneer cemetery; theft of granite and marble headstones for resale once the engraving has been scraped off; destruction of the historic caretaker’s house at the Pioneer cemetery; cemeteries plagued by drug dealers; and vandalism of the Pioneer Memorial on Market Square becoming a fireplace for vagrants.
The De Beers swimming pool on Warren Street, built at the turn of the 19th to 20th century, was filled to become a car park.
The Kimberly Regiment militaria collection was taken into storage because of its colonial connotations.
The De Beers mine open pit was filled and is now a man-made mountain which is part of rehabilitation.
The Diamond Fields Artillery building, dating from as far back as the 1880s, was flattened to build a parking area.
The Diggers’ Memorial Fountain in the Oppenheimer Gardens has not worked for years and the massive replica diamond sieve was stolen.
Very few of the signage for tourist sites erected in 1998 are left and have not been replaced.
The Kimberley Show, once a highlight of the entertainment programme, is now no longer. As is the Gariep Kunstefees.
Other than a few isolated signposts between Hopetown and Kimberley, the N12 Battlefield Route does not exist as a tourist route.
There are no movie houses left in Kimberley.
The tram is operational intermittently.
The Halfway House no longer has their drive-in bar licence.
De Beers Consolidated Mines has closed down its head office.
Written by Steve Lunderstedt, historian, writer and experienced tour guide