Kimberley holds a significant place in the history of South Africa as the origin of the great diamond mines, sparking the enterprise of the country and drawing the world’s attention to its potential. When one thinks of Kimberley’s origins, certain words spring to mind, like De Beers, Cecil John Rhodes and the Cape to Cairo railway.

Passengers on our luxury rail tour  will be taken to this town, located in the sparse and arid Northern Cape; a province that would be even more solitary without the many tourists who flock there to take a trip back in time and learn about the history of the area. Kimberley’s story is one that rivals the American gold rush, where an unassuming patch of land became a buzzing metropolis of activity and culture. The great Diamond Rush began in 1871, where the Big Hole is located today. The location was a small hill before furiously and rapidly transforming into the Big Hole after thousands of diamond prospectors searched and recovered tons of precious blue-ground Kimberlite beneath the ground.

Beautiful view of Kimberly's Big Hole

Once Kimberley became a diamond mining haven, the town grew into a place where one could make their fortune. This was most true of shrewd businessmen, Barney Barnato and Cecil John Rhodes, who both entrenched themselves in Kimberley’s development. Barnato operated the Kimberley Central Mine east of the railway station while Rhodes owned the De Beers Mine where the Big Hole is found.

Old Portrait of Cecil John Rhodes   Old Protrait of Barney Barnato

Cecil John Rhodes and Barney Barnato

Both men agreed that the supply of diamonds to the world market had to be controlled through the formation of a monopoly or cartel, but which one would buy out the other? De Beers became the head of the monopoly and bought out Barnato. The formation of the De Beers Consolidated Diamond Mines Ltd happened in 1888 and is still one of the leaders in supplying the world with diamonds. Before the discovery of diamonds in the Northern Cape, diamonds could only be obtained from the far reaches of India and Ceylon. After the diamond rush, the business acumen of Rhodes and Barnato enabled South Africa to change the diamond industry into something that was mechanised and able to compete on the world stage.

De Beers Mining Logo on window

After the diamond rush madness, the town was once again beset with intense activity, although this time it was the Anglo-Boer War. The Boers sieged Kimberley, trapping the British inside it, despite many attempts by the troops to relieve the town. Today, guests on the Rovos Rail tour can revisit this period in South Africa’s history thanks to the impressive Kimberley Mine Museum. Here, you will be able to fully immerse yourself in the story of the diamond industry, a period that forever shaped South Africa’s business sector and social economics.

The Honoured Dead Memorial on Hunting Safari

The Honoured Dead Memorial remembers those who died defending the town during the Anglo-Boer War

Once gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand in 1886, people migrated from Kimberley to Gauteng, taking their fortunes with them. They have settled there ever since. The town went back to its quiet character, becoming a historical landmark that is visited by those keen to relive its interesting story. While Kimberley may seem sleepy, De Beers still retains its headquarters in Stockdale Street. Every year, important shareholders and CEOs from New York, Zurich, Hong Kong and other huge cities come together and meet for their annual sit-down. It’s at this time Kimberley becomes one of the most important cities in the world.