Steve on Sunday Sometimes
WHAT HAS BEEN DESTROYED CANNOT BE UNDONE
Yesterday is history, today it is heritage.
Each and every building, museum, monument, memorial, cemetery, or street in Kimberley belongs not only to every individual who resides in Kimberley, but also to every person who is a citizen of South Africa. It is our heritage. It is up to us to ensure that they are all looked after with loving care so that future generations will understand how we lived in days gone by, no matter the circumstances. It is our heritage and it shall be the future generations’ heritage too.
One cannot really change history, but one can certainly add to it, and substantially so in certain cases.
Sadly, in Kimberley, and certainly in other areas, there is not only a great neglect of our heritage, but there appears to be a systematic destruction of valuable historic commodities and life just merrily goes on with nary a backward glance. Other than a few individuals who raise their hands or voices nothing is done to correct the situation. In many cases it is far too late, and the hands and voices of the few get stilled as time progresses.
The tourists – do you remember them? – are not flocking to Kimberley post pandemic as they are to Cape Town, the Garden Route, the Kruger National Park and a few other choice destinations. The vast majority of these overseas tourists are basically looking for wild life (flora and fauna) and sunshine. There are many visitors too, who do visit and admire the numerous historic buildings and museums, and an even smaller minority move to other tourism adventures such as battlefields, walking and hiking trails, rock art, architecture, etc. The much vaunted and publicised liberation struggle history (other than Robben Island) is not very high at all on the tourist drawcard, and this history, as important as it may be to the fast disappearing generation of stalwarts Mandela, Mbeki, Sisulu, Naude, et al, is merely another drawcard on the periphery of such major attractions of animals, sunshine and Table Mountain.
In Kimberley the major attraction for the tourist is diamonds – the history of diamonds, the diamond discoveries, the mining thereof, and the personalities involved in such.
Included among these are the many buildings and institutions connected to the diamond history. Tourists too, are fascinated with individuals such as Barney Barnato, Cecil Rhodes, Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, Charles Rudd, JB Robinson, Dr Jameson, Alfred Beit, George Labram, Sol Plaatje, ister Henrietta, Olive Schreiner, and other important personages.
It is an interesting statistic that the Kimberley Mine Museum (Big Hole) attracts more visitors per annum than all the other museums in Kimberley combined. By light years. (That word ‘light’! Did I mention that as I write this magnificent piece of literature we are currently on level 6? It may get worse, it may get better. Who knows anymore? Who wants to know?) There are many other museums and satellite museums within Kimberley other than the Mine Museum, and these include the McGregor Museum, the William Humphreys Art Gallery, Rudd House, Dunluce, Pioneers of Aviation, Terry Hall of Militaria, Sol Plaatje Museum, Tait Museum, Alexander McGregor Memorial museum, Magersfontein museum, and a few others.
All are on the periphery of the diamond history whether we like it or not. Certainly a part of the bigger picture – the history of diamonds, but they are not about diamonds nor about the related romanticism of the glittering stone.
The five historic cemeteries within Kimberley have been and are still are being vandalised, as indeed are the modern cemeteries.
Back to our heritage.
In Kimberley we have lost so much of our heritage that it has become difficult to register the fact without shedding a tear or two.
Once gone, naturally, it can never come back in its original form. Gone means gone. It is heartsore material. And I promise not to mention the nine million potholes on the roads, the unkempt pavements, the water leaks, the power black outs, and the nightly water shutdowns.
Perhaps it should be named the Great Depression, of both the city and ourselves.
To do with heritage, what have we lost these last fifteen years or so?
Original Kimberley Reservoir Wall. Now a point to fill water tankers for areas that do not have water.
Masonic Temple Beaconsfield. Busy being renovated by SAHRA but nothing has happened in months. It has been virtually knocked down and is not recognisable.
Star of the West bar and adjacent building. The Bar, one of Kimberley’s oldest, became a modern bar, the historic interior giving way to modern. The adjacent building, a corrugated iron building from the 1870s, was destroyed to allow parking for some ten vehicles at most.
Cenotaph plaques. At least four bronze tablets gone forever. As too have the dates of WW 1 and WW 2 and large Memorial wording, all in bronze.
Sir David Harris plaque on his bust in Belgravia. Stolen.
General Tim Lukin plaque/tablet. Stolen.
Railway war memorials for WW 1 and WW 2 on the station proper. Gone.
Gunner’s memorial tablet for World War I at the Moth Centre, gone.
Metalwork off the Long Cecil gun. All the odds and ends that made the Long Cecil work have been stripped from the gun leaving only the carriage and barrel.
Long Cecil gun lathe. Once upon display outside the old De Beers Workshops. Stripped and sold for scrap.
Don McHardy Memorial Fountain outside the railway station. Destroyed and now a car park.
Memorial Road houses for Viennese band of the 1892 International Exhibition. Two burnt down and two have been destroyed by vandalism. Only two left. The four that have been lost will not be repaired as the Department of Health, who own the buildings, want the ground for extra car parking. Unbelievable.
General Cemetery destruction throughout Kimberley.
Theft of bronze memorial tablets at the entrance to the Pioneer cemetery.
Theft of granite and marble headstones from several cemeteries, this for resale once the engraving has been scraped off.
Destruction of the historic caretaker’s house (by fire) at the Pioneer cemetery. Dangerous cemetery plagued by drug dealers and skellums.
Vandalism of Pioneer Memorial on Market Square. Has become a fireplace for vagrants and meeting place for undesirables dealing in matters pertaining to supposed happiness.
De Beers swimming pool, built at the turn of the 19th to 20th century, filled in, and is now a car park.
Kimberly Regiment militaria collection – taken into storage because of its colonial connotations. It is now merely an empty building.
De Beers mine open pit. Filled in and now a man-made mountain. This, I suppose, was necessary as part of a rehabilitation process.
Diamond Fields Artillery building. Dating from the 1880s, flattened to make a parking area for vehicles.
The Digger’s Memorial in the Oppenheimer Gardens. Has not worked for years and while attempting to repair the fountain feature the massive replica diamond sieve was stolen. The five miners who originally held up the sieve now appear to be surrendering. Perhaps they are…
Diamond Fields Advertiser newspaper. Once a popular and well-read daily newspaper Monday to Saturday, now a freebie, a giveaway weekly rag. How the mighty have fallen.
Signage for tourist sites. Erected in 1998, very few tourist sign boards left and when they fall over or get driven over, are not replaced. Sad.
The Kimberley Show. Once a highlight of the entertainment programme, now no longer.
The Gariep Fees. Like the Show, an annual cultural festival that is now no more.
The N12 Battlefield Route. Other than a few isolated signposts between Hopetown and Kimberley, it does not exist as a route. There are individual highlights but no route as such.
There are no movie houses left in Kimberley. When Covid lockdown ended, so did our movie houses.
The pavements throughout town are an absolute disgrace. Broken and damaged pavings, opened for pipe repairs, cables, etc, and not repaired. Manhole covers stolen and not replaced. Very dangerous to walk on and many people now use the roads, potholes and all rather than the pavements. Oops, sorry, I forgot I must not mention the pavements.
The tram. Now it works, now it does not, now it works. At the moment, this tourist drawcard is not working. I saw the tram driver aboard a road maintenance vehicle just this last week.
Kimberley Ghost Tour. South Africa’s first ghost tour is no more. Too dangerous today, with vehicle break ins, historic Frankenstein cemetery with vandals and skellums living within, and vandalism of historic (and haunted) houses has ensured its demise.
Halfway House Drive In licence. The famous Half is still there but no longer has the drive in bar. There went history.
Shutdown of DBCM Head Office. De Beers Consolidated Mines finished up at its Head Office and amalgamated buildings at the end of 2021. This historic area of town is now not fit for tourists, nor for many residents to. What is happening to the buildings no one knows at this stage.
Of the five walking trails in historic areas, only two are safe enough to actually walk, and these must done be in a group.
Electrical cables appear to be stolen on a daily basis. This is now getting worse and merely adds to the enforced black outs.
There are more, but the above should suffice.
It was not easy typing so it will not be an easy read. It is a tragic story.
How about this one to end the blurb?
Refuse removal, once upon a time in Kimberley twice a week, and now weekly, will not take place if it rains. Can you believe that, and that is now policy. So if it rains every day there will never be refuse removal. Imagine that Cape Town and London?
Have a lovely Heritage weekend. I hope my mobile braaivleis is still there today otherwise it is polony sandwiches for me.
I thank you.