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Francis Oats

TODAY IN KIMBERLEY’S HISTORY 8 AUGUST

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8 August 1914, The De Beers mines close down.

DID YOU KNOW

Because of the war in Europe, all operations on the diamond mines in Kimberley had shut down on 8 August 1914, washing having ceased the day before. Wesselton Mine and Bultfontein Mine would reopen in May 1916, but the most famous of the five big mines, the Kimberley Mine (Big Hole), would never again operate.

Francis Oats, (pictured), Chairman of De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd, explained the closure to a distressed Kimberley:

“Today we are onlookers at the greatest crisis the world has ever known. As to how long that crisis may continue we can have no foreknowledge. I have to tell you, however, that since the declaration of war we have sold no diamonds at all. We have to recognise that we are a company producing a luxury, which naturally does not find a sale in circumstances like those that we face today. We are perforce compelled to mark time. We have faith that things will eventually right themselves, and that our product will again be in demand. But today we have to face the fact that no demand exists. We have therefore to ask ourselves, shall we go on working without selling diamonds? I need scarcely tell you that the position has been very anxiously discussed. There have been differences of opinion among the Directors but in the end we came to the conclusion that while this state of things lasted we must as far as possible confine ourselves to marking time, and not further increase the stock of unsold diamonds already on hand. With that decision, naturally, there arose a question which concerned Kimberley very closely – the employment of our workpeople. On that matter we have done the best we could under the circumstances…The Directors claim your sympathy in the crisis they have already gone through, and in that which is still to come.

“At the moment of closing our work down there was no money to be obtained. Our consols were unsaleable. The bank rate in London was at that time ten per cent. We were faced with difficulties on every hand. The question of what we had to do with our workpeople was not the least of the problems with which we had to deal.

“With regard to our men…shows that of the 2700 Europeans previously in the services of the Company we have assisted about 699 to go elsewhere to obtain employment. Over one thousand in number…came forward and patriotically gave their services to the country in time of need. A number of men went to the front and we decided…that they should not lose pecuniarily by their patriotism. They were receiving half pay, and we told them that as long as they continued on active service the difference between their military pay and the half pay they were receiving from the Company should be made good.”

Oats went on to say that the 1000 odd men still in employment would receive half pay until the end of January 1915 where a decision would be made.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

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