Steve on Sunday

6 December 2020

Greetings my fellow Vaalies and other hinterlanders,

This first part is mostly for the Vaalies, but those who live on the coast are permitted to read it merely so they can understand what is happening in the next few weeks. If anything is happening.

Going to the beach, yes? Packed your suitcases and the surfboard looks fine? Trailer is ready, so too is the caravan. Even the bikes for the whole family are ready to be fixed (somewhere) even if they do not ever get used. So too the caravan. It’s been primped and is now ready for the long haul to your final beautiful destination somewhere on the eastern or western cape coast line. You may have picked up some weight during this year but it will soon come off as you plan to jog or walk or swim or cycle at least twice a day. Yeah, right.

Let’s pick on Hartenbos ‘cause that’s where most of the hinterlanders I know descend upon and for six weeks that little village is seriously packed to the brim. Caravan nose to caravan nose, no parking available anywhere and the coastal village is really jampacked with tens of thousands of happy families who love the heat and suntanning and braaivleis and all the other things that go along with Christmas at Hartenbos.

Hartenbos is close to Port Elizabeth, well, sort of, and PE (Nelson Mandela Bay Muncipality) has been declared a hotspot for the plague. Other holiday towns are being checked on as I write. While beaches have not yet been declared out of bounds they might soon be depending on all sorts of factors.

Tourism needs the beaches to remain open and also for visitors to abide by the normal rules regarding masks and distancing etc. Not that they abide by them when at home so it may just be asking too much in the heat of December and January.

Can you imagine being stuck in your caravan with zero or limited access to the beach? Nightmare scenario.

But for the moment, all is fine, except in PE of course.

Not quite finished with the plague, sorry. Why oh why do politicians keep insisting on greeting each other with the elbow to elbow silliness? Do they not see how close their lips are to the other person’s lips? Rather just extend your hand like in a normal handshake but keep your hand in a fist. Then your lips will be a metre apart from other politicians lips and it’s only your knuckles that have met in the fist to fist touch. Or even better, just wave from a distance.

There is good news for those who travel to and through the Karoo and Kalahari on their way to wherever they have chosen to encamp for a week or two.

The world famous Kimberley Club, after being closed since before lockdown in March this year, opened its doors once again to the public and its members a mere three days ago.

Thank goodness, as the Club is a major part of Kimberley’s historic attractions. Today it is a four star hotel but still retains the ambience of the Club. For those not in the know, herewith a brief review on the Club’s history.

The history of the Kimberley Club is intrinsically bound with the history of Kimberley. It has always been said that Kimberley is De Beers and De Beers is Rhodes. Well, the Club can be added to that statement as since its foundation in 1881 it has been the focal point of not only the social history of the city of Kimberley, but also a focal point in the development, culturally, socially, historically and in business, of South Africa itself.

As Sir Ernest Oppenheimer once said, “it has a tradition all on its own. The memory of the men who made a new and greater South Africa is enshrined in this building.” His equally famous son, the late Harry O, indeed, added to the statement by saying that “future members will value it for what it is – a unique institution with a truly absorbing past.”

The Kimberley Club was founded in August 1881, although there had been an initial meeting to discuss the formation in May that year.  Leading men of Kimberley wanted a meeting place along the lines of London clubs where they could enjoy a drink or two, good food and the company of their peers, in comfort, away from the dust and dryness of the diggings. Cecil John Rhodes was the prime mover in the founding of the Club, while some of the original members included not only Rhodes but Charles Rudd, Dr Leander Starr Jameson, and mining magnates JB Robinson and Lionel Phillips. Needless to say, it was the men of the diamond industry who predominated when the Club opened its doors on 14 August 1882.

A visitor once said that “the place was stuffed with money – more millionaires to the square foot than any other place in the world.”

The members were all young, ambitious and adventurous. Rhodes himself was only 28 at the time of the founding of the club. Within the precincts of this building was discussed, and quite possibly formulated, the plans to amalgamate the diamond industry in Kimberley, South Africa and the world; the ill-fated Jameson raid of 1895/1896; the defence of Kimberley of 1899/1900; and the relief of Mafeking in May 1900. It was on the verandah of the club that Rhodes worked on plans and ideas to colonise the land north of the Limpopo, and it was at the Club that Frank Johnson presented his final plan to Rhodes for the pioneer column that settled in what is now Zimbabwe.

The molten-lead arrow on the entrance pathway in the main door of the club was placed there in 1889 to point true north, as Rhodes’ sense of direction failed him on occasion. It is still there.

The original building burnt to the ground on 1 November 1886, with only two walls remaining. The fire started when members were at dinner and an oil lamp chandelier fell in the upstairs billiard room. The building included a great deal of wood in its construction which ensured it burnt quickly and fiercely. Kimberley’s inadequate water supply and volunteer firemen could not extinguish the blaze.

Upon settlement of the insurance claim, Sydney Stent, architect of the Kimberley Kenilworth village (and father of Vere Stent),  was commissioned to design the new Clubhouse for £9 500. Residential accommodation was added for the first time when the club was rebuilt eight months later. Four outside bedrooms were built behind the club as well as a communal bathroom. Electricity, generated by a plant, was installed at the beginning of 1888. De Beers agreed to supply the club with electricity from the Kimberley Mine in 1890.

Early Club rules included “No Women in the Club”, “No Dogs on the Premises”, and “No Smoking in the Dining Room”, later amended to “No Smoking until one hour after the commencement of the meal”. Rhodes and Dr Jameson were inveterate smokers.

This second building was destroyed by fire just nine years later on 11 October 1895, and nearly everything was destroyed except the wine in the cellars and papers and documents rescued from the safe of the secretary. The kitchen remained unscathed, and within three days, meals were being served to members in a temporary club – the double storey house opposite the Club that belonged to Robert Dundas Graham. Salvaged from the ruins was the famous weighing chair, presented by Lord Randolph Churchill, the father of Sir Winston Churchill. The Chair is now in the lounge adjacent to the main bar.

The third (and current) club was completed in mid 1896, the plans having been drawn by Daniel W Greatbatch, the architect who also designed Dunluce and Kimberley Girl’s High. Much of the furniture currently in use was ordered from London; the bentwood chairs in the bar lounge date from this time as does the mahogany sideboard in the dining room. The stained glass windows depicting the four seasons (over the staircase) was presented by Alfred Beit.

The Kimberley Club has always been a “Men’s Club”, although in December 1999 the Club rules and bye-laws were altered to comply with the constitution of South Africa.  In those early days however, Ladies Nights were held occasionally, but it was not until 1937 that a Ladies annexe was made available – now the Rhodes Room. A banquet was held on 12 May 1937 to celebrate the opening of the ladies’ annexe as well as the coronation of King George VI. Ladies, at this stage, still used the back entrance to the Club. The present Ladies Lounge off the dining room used to be the billiard room, and was brought into use towards the end of 1962 after much rebuilding and alterations were made. Now the ladies had a front entrance leading onto Dutoitspan Road – still not the main entrance – but at least they did not have to use the back door.

It was in April 1965 that women were admitted to the Club as Assocxiate members instead of having to be invited guests. After discussions at the AGM of 1980, women were finally allowed to use the front door, the dining room and accommodation at the Club. However, the bar and bar lounge remained a male domain.

Membership of the Club in 1881 was limited to 250 members, while today there are over 550 members. Among the many members over the 120 years have been at least four prime ministers, Rhodes, Jameson, John X. Merriman and Sir Charles Metcalfe. The Oppenheimer family have been, or are all members of the Club. So too were JB Currey, Barney Barnato, Alfred Beit, JH Taylor, JB Robinson, Lionel Phillips, Sir David Harris, Charles Rudd, all truly large names in this country’s history. The President’s Board in the hallway reads like a Who’s Who of South African history, while the Chairman’s Board is a Who’s Who of Kimberley. When one leans on the bar counter, it is humbling to remember the famous who once stood in the very same spot. There are not many Clubs (or hotels) in the world that can give that experience.

Some of the famous visitors to the Club have included the Royal Family in 1947, including both the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. Queen Elizabeth (now the Queen Mother), left a diamond ring in the bathroom which was found after their departure and returned to them. Perhaps the longest any “visitor” has stayed, has been Lt-Colonel Robert George Kekewich, who stayed at the Club for the duration of the siege of Kimberley which lasted 124 days from 14 October 1899 until 15 February 1900. The secretary of the Club during the siege, Tim Tyson, made sure that the Club remained open to members and that food and drink was readily available at all times.

Other important personalities who have visited over the years include Lord Randolph Churchill, the Royal Family in 1947, the Prince of Wales in 1925, Lord Roberts, Lord Kitchener, Lord Methuen, Sir Alfred Milner, Sir Thomas Upington, Sir Hercules Robinson, Henry Scott-Turner, various Directors of De Beers over the years, and many, many more too numerous to mention.

The history of the Club, as mentioned, is tied in to Kimberley and to South Africa, and like the personalities involved, so too the many paintings, prints, photographs, and varied artifacts are tied in to both the personalities and to historical events. The Club is a living museum and memorial to not only Rhodes, De Beers, and Kimberley, but also to all of its members both past and present.

Rhodes once said: “This club must be anything but a failure.”

To that must be added that the club must preserve its past through preservation of what it has today. The collection of paintings, photographs, and artefacts is unique and irreplaceable, and failure to save and preserve what the Club has, can be considered tantamount to failing the Club, its past members, and all future members.

Of all the tributes paid to the Club, perhaps the most perceptive is the simple statement of Philip Jourdan, a private secretary to Cecil Rhodes. “One always fared well at the Kimberley Club. Everyone was kind and everything was well done… Each seemed to know each other, and we were really like a big happy family living together”.

That, in essence, is what the Kimberley Club has remained.

First and foremost, a Club, secondly, an historical institution and living memorial to the early pioneers, and thirdly, a fine four star hotel for visitors to enjoy.

This Sunday’s blurb must surely end with a golfing story. I know you all love golf, especially the lady folk. But this is a story that will make not only the weekend hackers delighted but also make those semi-professionals who play on Wednesdays equally delighted.

The Kimberley Golf Club celebrated its 130th birthday in July this year but it is today, 6 December 1890, that was a red letter day as the very first competition on the golf course was played, and naturally, it was a medal round.

Surprisingly, or not so on reflection, it was a medical practitioner who was the winner. Dr J Eddie Mackenzie, son of the famous missionary of the late 1800s. And his winning score, and the first ever course record was 98.

I shall repeat that.


Makes you weep does it not? I used to do those scores regularly as a young teenager and I came nowhere near the leaderboard.

Please do have a good week ahead, and remember that if you cannot hit the beach, golf courses should still be open.

I thank you.


By Managing Editor

Highly respected, Writer, Blogger, Wildlife Conservationist, Hunter and Father.......

3 thoughts on “SOS – Steve On Sunday”
  1. I enjoyed reading all this history, thank you for all your research. Imagine all the ‘plotting and scheming’ that went on within those hallowed walls!

  2. Having been born in 1949 in Kimberley I really appreciate going down memory lane here…. Thank you very much. Pity my father is no longer around as he would have thrived on this. Go well. Lindsay

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