Although it’s a provincial capital and the historic centre of production of one of the world’s most valuable materials, KIMBERLEY itself is neither large nor glamorous. During the diamond rush, it was the fastest-growing city in the southern hemisphere and Cecil Rhodes held in his grip not only the fabulously wealthy diamond industry, but the heart and mind of the British Empire; yet status and sophistication have been draining from Kimberley ever since. Even the all-controlling De Beers Group (sometimes called the “grandfather” of Kimberley for the number of people it has directly and indirectly employed) closed its Kimberley mines in 2005 as part of a process to streamline the company, and the city lives in the chilly shadow of the day when the diamonds dry up altogether.
However, Kimberley’s legacy gives it an historic flavour few other cities in South Africa can match. It’s worth spending a few hours seeking out some of the many old buildings, not forgetting to peer into the depths of the Big Hole just west of the centre, the remarkable, hand-dug chasm that takes up almost as much land area as the city’s central business district (CBD).
The fact that the Big Hole is underground doesn’t make orientation immediately easy; a useful landmark is the stern-looking skyscraper, Harry Oppenheimer House (often referred to as HOH), near the tourist office. Many of Kimberley’s other main sights lie on or near Du Toitspan Road, which slices diagonally across the city centre and becomes one of the main arteries out of town to the southeast. The central business district (CBD) sits at Du Toitspan Road’s northern end, to the south of Lennox Road.