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Bultfontein Mine compound in circa 1905

TODAY IN KIMBERLEY’S HISTORY – 17 JANUARY

UPDATED: 17/01/2019

17 January 1885, First mining compound opened at the Kimberley Mine by the French Company.
(Pictured is the Bultfontein Mine compound in circa 1905).

DID YOU KNOW

It has always been believed, quite erroneously, that De Beers Consolidated Mines introduced the Compound system for black mineworkers into South Africa and that they were the first in the world to do so. This has always been perceived to be the truth, and the De Beers Company portrayed as the compound system villains. But first, what is a compound.

The Collins Westminster Dictionary describes the word ‘compound’ as having been derived from the Malay word kampong which means an enclosure. In the Far East the word means an “enclosure about a house” whereas in South Africa it is described as “an enclosed area in which native [black] labourers reside.” In this case it means mine workers and in particular, black mine workers, or does it?

As recently as 1961 when Eric Rosenthal produced his Encyclopaedia of South Africa he described it as being “premises for housing natives and other non-European employees of mines and industrial concerns.” He went further by stating that “…in its strictest form it involved (as it still does) the native employees remaining inside an enclosure during their employment.” Like many others before and since, Rosenthal stated that the compound system had been introduced by De Beers Consolidated Mines.

Rosenthal and all the others are wrong. The De Beers Mining Company opened their first Compound for black mineworkers in 1886, remembering that technically and legally, this company ceased to exist in 1888 upon amalgamation of the two major companies that originally formed the De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited. Before the De Beers Mining Company even had their compound the Kimberley Central Diamond Mining Company as well as the French Company (Compagnie Francaise des Mines de Diamant du Cap de Bonne Esperance) already had closed compounds for their black mineworkers at the Kimberley Mine, plus another two in Bultfontein Mine. So officially, even before the advent of DBCM, there were already five major compounds in existence, and four of them were formed before that built by the De Beers Mining Company at the De Beers Mine. Naturally, upon amalgamation, DBCM took over the management of all of them, and have probably suffered in publications ever since.

But let us go back a little in time.

In 1878 Cecil Rhodes was sharing bachelor quarters with at least eleven other men, known simply as “The 12 Apostles”. It is quite likely that this mess was adjacent to the consortium’s diamond sorting table on what is now Belgrave Road. This residence was called ‘The Compound’.

There were many such compounds dotted all around the then municipalities of Beaconsfield and Kimberley. Otto’s Compound off Hull Street is but one. Even the Kimberley municipality had a compound. This municipal compound eventually settled at their Stockdale Street base and not only included (closed) quarters for certain categories of workers but also housed workshops and the Fire Brigade vehicles. Maps of early Kimberley throughout the 1870s and 1880s show these quite clearly.

In Kimberley by 1882 the word “compound” was commonplace indeed. The term was used to describe the area where the claimholder  had his tent and where the diamond sorting was done, while it was also used to describe an encampment of black workers. These encampments were called “black compounds”.

In January 1885, a hero of the Transvaal and Zulu Wars, one Teddy Green, died in the Dutoitspan Compound. Where was this compound? Maps do not show any such structure so perhaps it was one of the myriad smaller company compounds that were still open compounds rather than the more well-known closed compounds.

The very first closed compound for black mineworkers was opened officially on Saturday 17 January 1885 by the French Company who were based at the Kimberley Mine. The company marched 110 black mineworkers into the compound from which they were not to leave for six months.

Barney Barnato’s Kimberley Central Diamond Mining Company’s compound for their black mineworkers opened on 27 April 1885. In the same report the newspaper states that there was a strike by the black workers but this was quashed rapidly by removing the ringleaders who were then placed beyond the enclosure.

Yet another two mining companies in Kimberley had compounds in use by 1885, both based in the Bultfontein Mine, the Hatton Company and the Bultfontein Mining Company as the GW Diamond Mine Inspector states in his annual report.

The De Beers Mining Company only opened their Mine compound on the southern side of the De Beers Mine in 1886, although they did have a Convict Station built in 1884 to house 300 convicts and 25 guards in their mining area. Strictly speaking this station does not qualify as a compound as the inmates were prisoners ‘on lease’ to the De Beers Company.

17 January 1885, First mining compound opened at the Kimberley Mine by the French Company.

DID YOU KNOW

The very first closed compound for black mineworkers was opened officially on Saturday 17 January 1885 by the French Company who were based at the Kimberley Mine. The company marched 110 blacks into the compound from which they were not to leave for six months.
Barney Barnato’s Kimberley Central Diamond Mining Company’s compound for their black mineworkers opened on 27 April 1885. In the same report the newspaper states that there was a strike by the black workers but this was quashed rapidly by removing the ringleaders who were then placed beyond the enclosure.
Yet another two mining companies in Kimberley had compounds in use by 1885, both based in the Bultfontein Mine, the Hatton Company and the Bultfontein Mining Company as the GW Diamond Mine Inspector states in his annual report.
The De Beers Mining Company only opened their Mine compound on the southern side of the De Beers Mine in 1886, although they did have a Convict Station built in 1884 to house 300 convicts and 25 guards in their mining area. Strictly speaking this station does not qualify as a compound as the inmates were prisoners ‘on lease’ to the De Beers Company.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt

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