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WWhen Kimberley was besieged by Boer forces during the South African War (formerly the Second Anglo-Boer War), diamond magnate Cecil John Rhodes was a key player. Not only did he run a soup kitchen and have a massive field gun designed and built, but he offered townsfolk refuge in his underground mines.
October 1899 saw South Africa in the throes of war between Boer and Briton.
One of the hotly contested assets of the country during the South African War (formerly known as the Second Anglo-Boer War) was diamond-rich Kimberley which, by now, had become a rather fancy place, with a new town hall, all sorts of nightly entertainment and a civilian ‘diamond aristocracy’.
This particular elite group got a case of the infamous ‘Kimberley jitters’ when word arrived of an impending Boer assault on the town. Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Kekewich was despatched from the Cape to organise Kimberley’s military defence.
But from the start, it was a battle on 2 fronts. Diamond mogul Cecil John Rhodes arrived in Kimberley to defend his fortune and the town with it. His ways and those of Kekewich were radically different, and it was clear the 2 men despised each other.
To supplement the weak artillery pieces of the garrison, Rhodes had ‘Long Cecil’ built by a De Beers team headed by the chief engineer, an American called George Labram. The 50m-high shaft head at De Beers Mine was used by Kekewich as a reconnaissance tower.
The 124-day siege that followed contains more than enough material for an epic historical novel. Rhodes lived in the plush Sanatorium Hotel (now the MacGregor Museum) but sallied forth every day to organise his soup kitchen, arrange for ammunition manufacture in his machine shops and generally keep as high a personal profile as possible.
Inevitably, food stocks began running low, as did morale. But life became really grim when the Boers brought Long Tom, their famous siege gun, into the action. Long Tom took many lives and devastated much of Kimberley in only 3 days.
The relieving force headed by Lord Methuen was defeated dramatically at nearby Magersfontein just before Christmas of 1899. The siege was only lifted in February 1900 when Lord Roberts and his forces finally entered Kimberley with a cavalry charge.
The Honoured Dead Memorial in Kimberley honours the fallen soldiers of the Siege of Kimberley. The Long Cecil gun is mounted on its stylobate and the monument displays shells from the Boer Long Tom.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Sol Plaatje Tourist Information Centre
Tel: +27 (0)53 830 6271/2
How to get here
Kimberley lies 160km west of Bloemfontein on the N8 and is about a 5-hour drive west of Johannesburg on the N12. The Honoured Dead Memorial is situated at the intersection of Dulham and Oliver Roads.
Best time to visit
Spring and autumn (September to October) and April to May are some of the nicest times of year to visit. Summers (October to April) can be very hot and winters (May to August) can be very cold.
Things to do
The Magersfontein battle site, the N12 South African War Battlefield Route, the Kimberley Archaeological Route, the MacGregor Museum and the Wildebeestkuil Rock Art Site are all worth visiting.
Tours to do
Kimberley Ghost Tour, local museum tours, the Big Hole, Belgravia Historical Walk.
Although there are many guided tours available, you can also easily drive yourself around Kimberley.
Where to stay
Kimberley is large enough to offer all kinds of accommodation. See the listed websites below for options.
What to pack
Always pack for rain, shine and a sudden change of temperature.