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Today in Kimberley's History

TODAY IN KIMBERLEY’S HISTORY 31 AUGUST

UPDATED: 31/08/2018

31 August 1918, CBC Building Fund have produce sale at the City Hall.
31 August 1945, 1000 people attend opening of the Red Cross fete held at the Kbly Regiment.

DID YOU KNOW

The brother-in-law of Solomon Plaatje, Horatio Isaiah Budlwana “Bud” Mbelle (pictured, and with his family) was born in Burgersdorp on 24 June 1870. He grew up in the Herschel district where Sesotho and Nguni languages were spoken.

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Horatio Isaiah Budlwana Mbelle

Educated at the Wesleyan Methodist Church, and then from 1886 to 1888 at the Healdtown Institution, a Methodist school near Beaufort west where he qualified as a schoolteacher. From 1889 until 1894 he taught at Herschel and then at Colesberg. He continued studying part time and became the first Black African to pass the Cape Civil Service Examination, passing in six languages; Afrikaans, English, Sesotho, Setswana, Xhosa and isiZulu.

He left teaching and became a Court Interpreter, his first job being at Grahamstown. In 1894 he became the interpreter for African languages at the Griqualand West Supreme Court in Kimberley, a position he held at least until 1915.

He lived in the Malay Camp, and played a leading role in the community. He established several schools and served on the committee of the Lyndhurst Road School for many years. With some other leading Africans of the period, he was instrumental in setting up the University of Fort Hare. He was a founder member of the South African’s Improvement Society and of the Kimberley YMCA. He loved music and was a founder member and Director of the Philharmonic Society of the NW Cape. A member of the Wesleyan Methodist Church. He was also a talented rugby and cricket player while in Kimberley, and was also involved in the admin of such, particularly cricket.

He stayed at 32 Angel Street until his departure to Pretoria in 1915, renting the house out, and eventually sold it in 1929 when the people of Kimberley bought it and gave the house to Sol Plaatje. His sister had moved into the house at some stage between 1919 and 1923. Perhaps the house should rather be known as Mbelle House.

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Horatio Mbelle & Family

His post of interpreter was abolished in 1915 and he moved to Pretoria where he became an insurance agent. Always involved in politics he became the Secretary General of the ANC, having joined it while in Kimberley (SANNC) in 1917, but resigned in 1919 because of differences with other leaders at the time. The same year he returned to the Civil Service in Pretoria where he remained until his death on 16 July 1947. He was an author of the Xhosa Scholar’s Companion.

He married Maria Johanna Smouse in 1897 and the union produced three daughters.

A lifelong friend of Solomon Plaatje, he organised his funeral in Kimberley in 1932.

UPDATED: 31/08/2017

31 August 1918, CBC Building Fund have produce sale at the City Hall.
31 August 1945, 1000 people attend opening of the Red Cross fete held at the Kbly Regiment.

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 labourers reside.” In this case it means mine workers and in particular, black mine workers, or does it?

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Kimberley Compound

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 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 Française des Mines de Diamants du Cap de Bonne Espérance) 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 probably suffered in publications ever since.

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Kimberley Compound

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 (or Master) 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 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.

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Kimberley Compound

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.

It was Matabele Thompson whom Cecil Rhodes asked to plan and build the De Beers Mine compound.

In Matabele Thompson’s own words: “Rhodes asked me to leave the Civil Service and undertake the re-organization of the native compounds in Kimberley, where things were in a chaotic state…” The word re-organization speaks for itself…there were quite obviously various types of compound already in use.

Accommodation was provided for 5000 Africans in an area of 25 acres. A wall 12 feet high was built around the entire complex using brick and corrugated iron, and several stores were placed within – baker, butcher, several grocers, and a church. There was a dispensary, a hospital and a swimming bath. There were iron rooms fringing the insides of the enclosure, each room measuring 25 foot by 30 foot and lit by electricity. 25 workers lived in each room. The beds were wooden bunks and the bedclothes blankets. There would be a large open area in the centre for recreational purposes. Thompson’s plan, which was implemented, was that the workers would be locked up for three months (later extended to six months), and only have access to the mine through a covered entrance/exit and then down an inclined shaft to the workings. The main reason, according to Thompson, was to stop the diamond smuggling. To further assist in this a net was thrown over the entire compound to stop packets of diamonds being thrown out. To stop smuggling the solitary cell system was introduced by Thompson. These “cells” were buildings with concrete floors and walls and lit by electricity. Large lights were hung throughout the compound. The workers about to be discharged were made to undress, then to wash. They then received blankets and large leather gloves were locked on their hands. They were kept for five days as such, and then en masse moved off to the railway station where they were all seen off to their various homes. They were not allowed to visit anyone or any shop in town. (By 1953 this practice had stopped, and they were allowed to visit town).

There was strenuous opposition to the compound by most workers, and when the plan was implemented on the first day, all 3000 workers went on strike. After about seven days striking, most workers went back to work. No alcohol was allowed in, nor were women. Families could not visit. The employee would sign a contract before he was allowed to work.

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Kimberley Compound

Every “shift” of three months, a tax of two shillings per worker was paid for free admission to hospital. The most common disease in the compounds was scurvy, although on occasion a case of leprosy would be discovered. These unfortunates would then be sent to Robben Island.

The workers themselves would pay a registration fee of one shilling, and a shilling a month during his employment. This second fee would go to the Hospital.

Most of the compounds could hold 3000 workers, but the biggest was the De Beers Mine compound. Gardner Williams states that 2300 workers were in the De Beers Mine compound at the end of 1888.

So why was this closed compound system started, or even deemed necessary, by the mining companies?

1. Preventing desertion of black mineworkers
2. Mineworkers to be kept as far as possible away from temptations in dealing with illicit diamonds
3. Searching of mineworkers for diamonds would be easier
4. Mineworkers to be kept away from townships
5. Mineworkers to be kept away from alcohol and canteens

All the above are inter-related, and basically boil down to the same reason – to stop the illicit traffic in diamonds.

Although most benefits were for the Mining Companies themselves, the enclosed workers would have access to food, accommodation and health-care. Whether it was better than when they were ‘independent’ cannot be stated or guessed and is probably an idea for another paper or thesis.

To end with, a look at how people in that era saw the compound system.

Miss Flora Shaw (later Lady Lugard), erstwhile correspondent of the Times of London visited the compounds in 1892. “Do you mean to say,” she asked Frank Mandy, “that these men have no wives?” “Yes,” replied the compound manager, “we don’t allow a single woman to live inside the enclosure.”

“Ah”, she replied. “Now I know what you call a compound. It is a Monastery of Labour.”

In an article for the DFA Christmas issue of 1898 the writer, possibly George Green, wrote that the compound “…what was at first considered a tentative and hazardous experience is fully accredited by the result as an excellent and established institution.”

The Reverend William Eveleigh in 1913 wrote in the DFA: “The life of the compound native may have its disadvantages; but it has comforts and pleasures to which many slum dwellers in the large cities of England are strangers; and in the best interests of the thousands of natives on the Rand, the Union Government will do well to consider the advisability of adopting the Kimberley system for the gold mines.”

The term “compound” was done away with in 1956 and replaced by the term “hostel”.

The compounds as described above are based on the 1886-1900 designs and all information comes from Gardner Williams and Matabele Thompson.

Pictured are various scenes at Kimberley’s compounds.

While undoubtedly something happened this very day in Kimberley’s history, it has not yet been found. The research, naturally, continues….

DID YOU KNOW

De Beers Consolidated Mines has had two Head Offices in Kimberley – the first on Warren Street known today as the De Beers Mining Company Boardroom, and the other on Stockdale Street.

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De Beers Warren Street Head Office

The original De Beers Mining Company offices on Warren Street were opposite the Boardroom, this building being erected during the period 1886/1887. The then secretary of De Beers, H.I. Feltham, called for building tenders to be in by August 1886, and building started shortly thereafter. It was designed by the architects, Stent and Hallach, and built by the local firm Church and MacLauchlin, opening for business in 1887.

It was within these walls that the signing of the great amalgamation took place in 1888, and the building remained the Head Office of the De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited until November 1889. In 1888 the Great Mine (Fire) Disaster rescue work was co-ordinated from within these walls by the General Manager, Gardner Williams.

In 1895 it became the De Beers Mine Recreation Rooms, the word “Reading” being added later. The Billiard rooms adjacent to the Boardroom were opened 28 May 1895. In 1964 the Reading Rooms were closed as it was planned to make a museum to the memory of Cecil Rhodes. Despite the planning, this idea did not materialize.

The Stockdale Street building was the original Head Office for Barney Barnato’s Kimberley Central Diamond Mining Company, and from November 1889 the building became the Head Office for the amalgamated diamond-mining company – De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited. During the time frame March 1888 until November 1889 the building was converted from a single storey building to a double storeyed.

The building, through extensions over the years, reached Southey Street by 1914.

Pictured are the two Head Offices, the original on Warren Street, and the Stockdale Street building in circa 1893.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt

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