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Alfred Beit House - Kimberley Girls High Hostel


01 February 1876, The High Court of Griqualand West moves from Barkly West to Kimberley.
01 February 1899, Tramline between Kimberley and Kenilworth opens.
01 February 1909, Alfred Beit House, the hostel for girls at Kimberley GHS, opens.
01 February 1915, Gladstone School new buildings on Warren Street open.
01 February 1940, Municipal beer halls open in No 2 and Greenpoint.

The tram line to Kenilworth
By Dr Richard Sabatini

The Kenilworth village was designed by Sidney Stent and was financed by De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited. The only disadvantage for the residents was that it lay to the north-east of Kimberley and a large expanse of open ground, used as a depositing floor by the diamond mines, had to be negotiated by the inhabitants journeying to and from town.

These depositing floors were spread out on any suitable expanse of open flat ground surrounding Kimberley and Beaconsfield. Their purpose was to permit the dumping of Kimberlite, which contained the diamonds, onto areas where “weathering” could occur. Kimberlite, the solidified magma responsible for bringing the diamonds to the surface millions of years ago, is hydroscopic.

Although as nearly as hard as granite when extracted from underground, Kimberlite rapidly disintegrates when exposed to the “weathering” process.

Thus, when placed in direct contact with the elements of sun, rain, heat, cold and wind, it absorbs and retains water, which breaks up the rock until it simply disintegrates, and releases any diamonds contained within.

As suitable crushers were simply not available the chosen method to recover diamonds involved the cutting down of a million and a half trees around Kimberley. Kimberlite was then deposited on these vast expanses of cleared land, which became known as depositing floors. Here the Kimberlite remained, for up to two years.

Periodically the Kimberlite, also known as “Blueground,” was turned over by steam ploughing engines, to ensure a more even and regular decomposition. De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited had purchased several steam ploughing engines and harrows from John Fowler & Sons, in England, specifically for this purpose.

The most direct route between Kenilworth and Kimberley was via these depositing floors and thus the residents used them as a shortcut. Anyone passing the “Floors” kept a sharp lookout for exposed diamonds, which naturally led to an increase in Illicit Diamond Buying and Trafficking (IDB & IDT).

Naturally De Beers were not at all happy with this state of affairs and had been looking for some time for an alternative means of access, and thereby restrict the public from these “Floors” permanently.

A narrow gauge railway was constructed by De Beers Consolidated Mines in 1892, to the eighteen inch gauge, to do just that. Unfortunately, as it was constructed entirely on mine property, it failed to address properly the needs of Kenilworth residents wishing to go to the town of Kimberley.

This railway had three primitive knifeboard open bogie coaches and was pulled by a diminutive Bagnall & Sons four-wheel well tank locomotive. Although it undoubtedly served its primary purpose of taking their work force to and from the mines, it was not really what the Kenilworth residents were looking for as far as transporting them to and from Kimberley.

Although Kenilworth was undoubtedly a potential future source of passengers, the Gibson Brothers, conscious of falling passenger receipts, decided that expansion of their tramway in this direction would be unwise under the existing circumstances, and a sporadic service of sorts, out to Gladstone was maintained.


Kimberley Tramline

Finally, with the service still failing to cover operating costs, on 24 March 1894 the Gladstone trams stopped running completely. The Gibson Brothers then approached the Kimberley Borough Council for permission to abandon the Gladstone route and lift the rails. This request was refused and instead counter proposals were presented to the Gibson Brothers, which suggested that rather than abandon this route, it should be extended to serve the residential area adjacent to the De Beers Mine, known as De Beers.

This, the council had originally proposed as far back as 1887, and should the tramway be extended on out to Kenilworth, not only would it produce additional passenger revenue, but financial assistance in the form of subsidies from De Beers Consolidated Mines might also be forthcoming.

The Gibson Brothers examined this idea afresh and requested the Kimberley Borough Council to arrange an explanatory meeting to discuss the proposal, which were held on 9 and 11 October 1895. The Gibson Brothers, members of the Kimberley Borough Council and representatives of De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited were all present, and an agreement was soon signed.

Under the terms of this agreement, De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited accepted the responsibility for constructing an extension of the Gladstone route, along Warren Street to the Kenilworth Road Cemetery, and on to Kenilworth. The Kimberley Borough Council granted the concession for the construction of this extension within the boundary limits, and the Gibson Brothers agreed to run this new tram service, between their Stockdale Street terminus out to Kenilworth.

The Gibson Brothers also agreed to purchase additional tramcars from America, to augment their existing fleet.

The route selected avoided the depositing floors, but was therefore not as direct as the former footpath across the “Floors”. Construction was undertaken by De Beers using 35-pound rails and was soon completed. As the route from the Kenilworth Road Cemetery on to Kenilworth was on De Beers’ property, no permission was required for construction from the council. The Kenilworth terminus was situated in Third Avenue, but the line actually continued a little further to a small tram shed and stables. The fare was set at 3d per adult between Kenilworth and Kimberley.


Tram Terminus

The Gibson Brothers ordered three new tramcars from the John Stephenson Company of New York, with two allocated towards providing the proposed Kenilworth service and the other one to take over the duties originally allocated for the battery car on the Beaconsfield route. The three tramcars arrived in early 1896 and the first one to be placed in service was given the number 9. This was an eight cross-bench open car, while the other two, numbered 12 and 13 were smaller six cross-bench open cars based on the original 1887 design.

The cost of the eight-bench car was £550 and the six-bench cars cost £450 each. Car number 9 and one of the six-bench cars were placed into service on the Kenilworth route, along with 15 mules.

Even had the Gibson Brothers wished to order their new tramcars from Britain, they would have not been able to, due to a strike in 1896 by engineers and mechanics. Even the Cape Government Railways, a traditional purchaser of British locomotives, were obliged to purchase steam locomotives from the United States of America during this period.

The new service between Stockdale Street and Kenilworth was officially opened on 1 February 1896, and immediately proved to be both popular and profitable. The profit was derived not just from passenger receipts but also from a subsidy of £100 per month, which De Beers had agreed to pay.

(From: A socio-economic history of the public passenger tramways of Kimberley: 1880-2000 by Dr Richard John Lawty Sabatini).

Beer Halls in South Africa’s History

1908: Native Beer Act: Empowered Natal Municipalities to utilize the profits from their monopoly sale of beer to Africans for the erection of houses, hospitals and other
facilities for Africans

1923: Native (Black) Urban Areas Act No 21: Local Authorities are
empowered and required to manufacture and sell beer to Africans in Townships

Durban’s first beer hall in Victoria Street

Durban’s first beer hall in Victoria Street, since demolished, became a flashpoint during political and social uprisings over the years.



In thwarting the production of what was known as “Kaffir Bier,” a concoction of a different kind was introduced by the government for the natives- Sorghum Beer. The motives blatant; exploit the natives and generate profits through a regulated concoction. And the Beerhall would allow for them get imbibed under strict surveillance.

From the 80s to now – I got to know Kalahari and Teemaneng as the Kimberley brands. Whilst elsewhere our elders consumed “tsikinya mabele” via Lekwa and Chibuku.

In instances where the cashiers were white, the then government paid a “tolerance allowance.” Why not when having to duck and dive sorghum beer drenched breathing all day.

The beer halls soon spread. From Bier-hall number One to Five around Galeshewe. Throughout the years of the struggle they were turned into targets of stone throwing and petrol bombing. Rightfully so, for they were a distraction, derailed the focus on harnessing black pride, development and unity in fighting for freedom.

Therefore; with the advent of democracy the maligned beer halls had to be demolished. The government of the day has transformed some of them into centres of human development around Galeshewe and elsewhere. The Mayibuye Multi-Purpose Centre – a centre for the arts – is where Beerhall No3 used to be and No2 is now The Galeshewe SMME village is the enterprise zone of budding young entrepreneurs. No5 (Beirut) also shelters local entrepreneurs and No4 is no longer the apartheid No4 – Thabo Mothibi

UPDATE: 01/02/2017

01 February 1876, The High Court of Griqualand West moves from Barkly West to Kimberley.
01 February 1899, Tramline between Kimberley and Kenilworth opens.
01 February 1909, Alfred Beit House, the hostel for girls at Kimberley GHS, opens.
01 February 1915, Gladstone School new buildings on Warren Street open.
01 February 1940, Municipal beer halls open in No 2 and Greenpoint.


Described as the “Financial Napoleon” of the South African business world, Alfred Beit was certainly the brains behind Cecil Rhodes and is normally the forgotten man of politics and business – which would have suited him immensely.

A man of indifferent health, he was an apprentice in merchant business being indentured to Siegmund Robinow and Sons. In 1875 he was sent as a diamond buyer to South Africa, at age 22, with the firm DJ Lippert and Company. He had the same idea as Cecil Rhodes, that is, that to save the diamond industry it must be controlled by some strong hand.

In 1882 he joined the firm Jules Porges and Company, became a partner to Julius Wernher in 1886 and in 1889 formed the firm Wernher, Beit and Company. Like Rhodes and Isaacs, Beit was busy buying up claims when, one day, he met up with Rhodes, who asked Beit what his plans were.
Beit replied, “I am going to control the whole diamond industry before I am much older.” Rhodes then said: “That’s funny. I have made up my mind to do the same. We had better join hands.” Which they did.

Gardner Williams, the first General Manager of De Beers, said of Beit: “He was very largely instrumental in building up the diamond mining industry and bringing the dreams of Rhodes into practical shape and on business lines.” He never took part in politics as such, but was associated with Rhodes in the settlement of what is now Zimbabwe.

All this time, Wernher and Beit and Company were busy consolidating and they became the powerhouse on the Witwatersrand gold fields.

Beit and his firm fitted out and provided horse for the Imperial Light horse as well as the Imperial Yeomanry during the Anglo-Boer War. All the horses used in the Mafeking Relief column were supplied by Beit’s own pocket, and the Boer flag captured at Vryburg was given to Beit in 1902.

During the siege of Kimberley Beit had remained in London.
His last trip to South Africa was in 1902 when he fell ill, an illness from which he did not recover. Beit, a very charitable personality, was a Governor of Guy Hospital in London, donated £100 000 to Hamburg University, and was a great benefactor of Oxford University.

Short in stature, thickset in figure, Beit was nervous, and hated publicity. His weight of intellect however, combined with his methodical business skills, ensured that he would always be remembered in South Africa. Most South Africans only know the name, however, for the bridge crossing the Crocodile River (Limpopo) that joins Zimbabwe with South Africa.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt


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