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Harry Oppenheimer


UPDATED: 04/09/2020

4 September 1890, Cecil Rhodes entertained at a civic function to celebrate his election as Cape Premier.
4 September 1905, Viennese band conductor Herr Carl Rybnikar marries Edith Kearns.
4 September 1973, Harry Oppenheimer becomes a Freeman of Kimberley.

The Eighth Freeman of Kimberley

On Tuesday 4 September 1973 Harry Oppenheimer (pictured) became the eighth freeman in the history of Kimberley since its existence 102 years prior. Alderman Lawrie Shuttleworth, the Mayor of Kimberley, said in his address that the De Beers Company, with Mr Oppenheimer at its head, had played a vital role in the economic and social well-being of Kimberley.


Harry Oppenheimer

“You have established”, he continued, “Kimberley as the diamond centre of the world. You made a significant contribution to the success of our centenary celebrations and we observe with interest the progress of the fine new building in the Civic Centre….” (later named Harry Oppenheimer House).

The Mayor continued, saying that the citizens of Kimberley took great pride in the achievements of Mr Oppenheimer and basked in the reflected glory. His “responsibilities are enormous and his stature international but he continues to have a care for the humblest of his employees.”

Responding to the Mayor, in front of 2000 people in a civic ceremony on the steps of the City Hall on Market Square, Mr Oppenheimer said: “Kimberley is my home town and such things as I have been able to achieve in life, all spring from this city. My business life and my public life are both rooted here and at my farm just outside Kimberley my private life is at its most peaceful and it’s most happy.

“My family and I owe much to Kimberley. You have today put the crown on a long and happy relationship and so long as I live it will be my greatest pride to call myself a freeman of this great city”.

UPDATED: 04/09/2017

4 September 1890, Cecil Rhodes entertained at a civic function to celebrate election as Premier.
4 September 1905, Viennese band conductor Herr Carl Rybnikar marries Edith Kearns.
4 September 1973, Harry Oppenheimer (pictured) becomes a Freeman of Kimberley.


Cecil Rhodes’ appointment at age 37 years as Premier of the Cape Colony on 17 July 1890 saw Kimberley acclaim him as “one of us” making it to the top. He had been sent for by the Governor of the Cape Colony the previous day, and on the 17th nervously announced in Parliament that he was able to form an administration with himself holding the Office of Commissioner of Crown Lands and Public works of the Colony. Kimberley could now go forward and hopefully become the great centre that had originally been thought possible. Rhodes first visit to Kimberley as premier was when he was entertained at a Banquet in the Town Hall on 4 September 1890. Tickets to the gallery were on offer after 10am at the City Hall.

“Mr Mayor and Gentlemen,” Rhodes said, “I thank you for the very cordial and hearty manner in which you have received the toast proposed. I cannot say that ‘A Prophet is not without honour save in his own country,’ for I am not a prophet, and I think the honour done to me tonight as one of your citizens, on my being raised to the position of Premier of this colony, is very great indeed; and I appreciate it extremely…I thought of my positions I occupied in the De Beers and the Chartered Company, and I concluded that one position could be worked with the other, and each to the benefit of all…If there is anything that would give me encouragement, it is the kindly and cordial greeting my fellow citizens have extended to me tonight…”

In 1890 Rhodes granted an interview to The World in a regular column entitled Celebrity at Home. The columnist referred to him as “heavily built, ponderous and slow speaking.” This gave the impression of a lazy person, but as the article continued, when one looked at him closely, there was genius in his eyes, described as being bright, keen and grey. That same year Olive Schreiner described him as having “masses of curly hair…a curious far off look”, and a “…huge, almost gross body.” He was a tall man, measuring some 6 feet one inch, a fact not known by many today, who for whatever reason believe he was quite short. His school friends, personal secretary Philip Jourdan, and Percy Fitzpatrick all state his height as being over 6 feet tall.

The first official dinner for Rhodes as Prime Minister saw the Chief Justice and Lady de Villiers as the guests for the evening, and it could not have got off to a more humbling start. At the very moment that the butler announced the arrival of Sir Henry de Villiers and his wife in his barrack room voice – he was an ex-Inniskilling Dragoon – one of Rhodes’ shoes had come off and he was on all fours under the table attempting to retrieve it. All that Lady de Villiers saw of her host upon entering was the seat of his dress trousers, not an auspicious start to his career, but fortunately it did improve.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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