15 June 1943, A four man delegation from Kimberley meets with General Smuts.
Kimberley during World War II
Kimberley’s dependence on diamonds once again came to the fore during World War II, 1939 to 1945, when the operating mines closed down. Most young white men of Kimberley joined the military, be it army, air force or navy, the women and the elderly men taking care of the daily business routine. Many Blacks and Coloureds from Kimberley and surrounding area also joined the war effort, the majority of the former being members of the Native Military Corps.
Despite being unarmed, they played an extremely important role, especially when serving with the SA Engineering Corps.
There is no doubt the city suffered, but then with the world at war, it was to be accepted and there were many other towns and cities far worse off than the diamond city.
There was a semi-military takeover of Kimberley that did ease cash-flow matters somewhat and keep the coffers ticking along. The Cape Corps had their training camp in the Dutoitspan and Bultfontein mining area, and by June 1941 Kimberley had a major role in the training of bomber pilots, navigators and bomb aimers – the 21 Air Flying school at Alexandersfontein/ Diskobolos/Airport being one of the biggest – if not the biggest – bomber training school in the British Empire. Apart from the Air School having 101 Squadron, there were also 70 Technical Training School and 72 Basic Training school based in town. Later 121 and 131 Squadrons were in Kimberley, these being Oxfords, mostly used as bomber reconnaissance planes. Naturally, being a bomber pilot school there were several types of bombers on hand for training.
The entire Alexandersfontein Hotel too, was donated to the Union Defence Force by De Beers Consolidated Mines, and was utilised as an officer’s mess.
The Mint – the munitions factory originally started by George Labram for De Beers Consolidated Mines during the siege of Kimberley – employed many of those disadvantaged by their colour, and they pushed out countless millions of shells, bullets, grenades, and for some time, barrels of guns. An amazing fact is that at its peak of production the Mint put out some 20 million bullet components per month for the .303 round. (The De Beers Workshops is today Kimberley Engineering Works).
War occupied the nation’s attention for the next six years, although in June 1940 the Chamber became the Advisory Liaison committee between the region and the Department of Defence – a situation that lasted until the end of the war. Again, Kimberley suffered through the curtailing of diamond production, and the only items discussed appeared to be the hours of business, weights and measures regulations, harbour storage charges and tenders.
On 15 June 1943 a four-man delegation from Kimberley met with the South African Prime Minister, General Jannie Smuts, in Pretoria. The delegation consisted of the Mayor, Graham Eden, Councillor M Sullivan, the City Electrical Engineer HA Morris and the Town Clerk, R Hartley Marriott. The interview with the Prime Minister was to discuss local Kimberley matters.
Perhaps the most interesting item business-wise in 1944 were the holidays when the Chamber of Business recommended that Wiener’s Day – the first Monday in October – remain and that some other holiday be named in honour of President Paul Kruger. The Chamber also discussed a “Buy in Kimberley” campaign that was due to begin, and requested that De Beers allow the Black miners to remain in Kimberley for a reasonable period instead of departing immediately once their contract had expired. It was hoped that some of their money earned in Kimberley would then be spent here.
During the war years 1939-1945 shops were closed on Thursday afternoons to allow shop assistants to participate in voluntary war work. About 68% did take up work but by February 1945 most thought that Thursday afternoon was a holiday and as a result played sport or lounged at home. Thursday afternoons off soon reverted to work time.
Note: Wiener’s Day was always the first Monday in October, and named such after Cape Colonial parliamentarian Ludwig Wiener who had proposed the idea – which was passed and instituted in 1889. After Union in 1910 it became known as Spring Day (1925) and then in 1936 changed to Commemoration Day. In the old Cape Colony, by then the Cape Province, it was still known as Wiener’s Day. In 1952 the public holiday fell away completely.
Ludwig Wiener, who was born in Germany, came to the Cape in 1855, and was most successful in business, operating not only in Cape Town but also in Ceres and Tulbagh. He was a Member of the Legislative Assembly for Cape Town for many years.
In 1891 he was the President of the Cape Town Chamber of Commerce and in 1893 was the Diamonds and Gems Commissioner for the Cape of Good Hope exposition to the Chicago World Fair. He was also the Ottoman (Empire) Consul-General based in Cape Town.
He died in the Cape and is buried in the Maitland cemetery.
While something important undoubtedly happened this very day in Kimberley’s history, it has not yet been found in the archives. Research, as usual, is ongoing.
DID YOU KNOW
The Convention Centre at the Big Hole complex adjacent to the Kimberley Mine Museum is more often than not referred to as the MSCC, which, unless you know what the acronym stands for, is quite pointless to visitors and residents alike.
MSCC stands for Mittah Seperepere Convention Centre which then begs the question: Who is Mittah Seperepere?
Mittah Seperepere (nee Goeieman) was born on 28 December 1929 at Riverton, roughly 30 kilometres from Kimberley, and died after a long illness on 30 October 2010.
Mama (Ma) Mittah participated in the struggle, particularly for women emancipation and actively resisted the anti-pass laws by mobilizing women in the anti-pass laws campaigns. Inspired by the Programme of Action of 1949 of the ANC Youth League, she joined the League and got actively involved in the underground structures. Her involvement gained her the attention of the SAP, culminating in her imprisonment in 1965. Upon her release she was incorporated into the structures of the ANC’s military wing Umkhonto We Sizwe.
She lived most of her adult life in exile, having been forced to leave the country of her birth. Together with her husband Maruping Seperepere, they left the country for Botswana in 1966. It was from Botswana that they later relocated to Tanzania, from where she served on the Regional Political Committee of the ANC. She became the welfare officer and started a primary school at SOMAFCO (the ANC School in Tanzania).
After her husband’s death in 1981, Mama Mittah relocated to Lusaka (Zambia) where she joined the ANC’s Women’s Section. From 1983 until 1989, she served as a representative of the ANC Women’s Section at the Women’s International Democratic Federation based in the then German Democratic Republic (East Germany).
Mama Mittah also represented Women’s liberation movements in the frontline countries, the English speaking African countries and the Portuguese speaking countries of Angola and Mozambique. In 1989, she was appointed ANC Chief Representative to Madagascar, La Reunion, Seychelles, Mauritius and the Comores.
In 1990, with the unbanning of the ANC she returned to South Africa and fully participated in the ANC structures and mobilized the community of Majeng and surrounding areas. From 1994 until 1999, she served as a Member of the National Assembly and in 1999 declined to return to parliament because she believed younger people should be given the responsibility. From then onwards, she became deeply involved with community development projects.
She also moved into tourism and hospitality by opening a guesthouse, Mannye’s, in the West End suburb.
In 2014 she was posthumously awarded the Order of Luthuli (Bronze). The Order of Luthuli is awarded to South Africans who made meaningful contributions to the struggle for democracy, human rights, nation-building, justice, peace and conflict resolution.
(From a variety of sources too numerous to mention).
Pictured is the Convention Centre and Mittah Seperepere.
Nothing has yet been found that happened this very day in Kimberley’s history. Research continues….
DID YOU KNOW
Seventy years a member, and 28 years as President of the Kimberley Club is the longest period any person has ever been a member and as President held the honour. Harry Oppenheimer, who became a member in 1930, was President of the Kimberley Club from 1972 until his death on 19 August 2000. He once said, quoting his father Sir Ernest that “The Kimberley Club is not just a Club in the ordinary sense – 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”. Harry Oppenheimer added that “one has only to enter the Club to be reminded of the part it, and its members, have played in shaping Southern Africa’s destiny.” The support of Harry Oppenheimer, and his wife Bridget, meant the Kimberley Club would always remain a shrine to the history of Kimberley, diamonds, and the many personalities that passed through the front doors.
32 years a Life Member meant that Harry Oppenheimer was the longest serving Honorary Life Member of the Kimberley Golf Club. Elected to the position in 1968, Mr Oppenheimer opened the new Golf Club and course in its present position on the Johannesburg road on 19 November 1960. Lisle McNamara, at the opening, said that “I must thank Mr Oppenheimer and the De Beers Company, for without their generous financial and practical assistance this project could not have been contemplated.” Mr Oppenheimer played with Lisle McNamara as his partner in that inaugural contest and holed out from across the first green. He also sponsored Kimberley’s first professional tournament since the 1913 South African Open Championship, the Kimberley 4000 in 1966, and also sponsored the trophy – shared by Harold Henning and Tony Jacklin. His own memories of the golf club went back many years prior to the grass course when he used to “derive great pleasure from playing on the old course with its blue ground gravel ‘greens’.”
From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt
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