October 30 – November 1, 2008
Driving Back to Johannesburg
Pnina and I gave ourselves 2 days to make the huge drive back from Cape Town to Johannesburg. It was a pretty killer drive – about 9 hours the first day and another 7 hours the next day. Also, while the scenery started out like this:
It pretty quickly changed to this:
And it stayed that way.
That gave us a lot of time to catch up on our books and podcasts (depending on who was driving).
We made a stop at Kimberley, a town that became famous for its diamond mines. We took a quick tour of the diamond museum in the morning, a museum called “Big Hole” because it sits next to an old diamond mind that looks like a giant crater in the ground:
When we got to the museum, all the lights were off – the city experienced a power outage and it looked like all we would be able to see was the hole itself. On the viewing platform we struck up a conversation with an older couple. I asked them if they know something about diamond mining, to which the guy replied “I’m a mining engineer” 🙂 This couple was working on designs for a new mining museum in Jo’burg, and they are going around the country looking for inspiration from other museums. Anyhow, they said that the discovery of diamonds kicked off the industrialization of South Africa. Why? Because the diamonds were far away from the sea ports, so the English investors had to build railroads to carry supplies, and eventually factories to produce the necessary tools localy, and so on.
Eventually the power did come back in the museum so we saw a short film about the history, then we went into Disney’ish cave that simulated the working conditions in those mines long ago, and we finished the tour by entering a vault that had a whole bunch of real diamonds – different colors, different cuts, etc.
The history of Kimberley is pretty interesting. When diamonds were first discovered there was a huge rush. People came over, staked out little claims (which they had to purchase), and then started digging for diamonds top-down. Some people became wealthy, but most people became disillusioned and left, especially when the soft top layer of ground was cleared away to reveal a tough blue rock below, a rock now called Kimberlite. It was only later that people discovered that this Kimberlite actually contained diamonds too. In fact, before Kimberly people assumed that diamonds are only found in riverbeds, but after Kimberly people realized that they are formed in lava chutes deep in the earth. So a new diamond rush began, and this time it was dominated but a few large companies. These companies kept merging and merging, and eventually you had just one – De Beers, headed by Cecil Rhodes. The name De Beers came from a family that owned a farm in Kimberly and sold it for a song (calling the company De Beers is kind a joke knocking the De Beers family for their mistake). Cecil Rhodes became a hugely important person in South Africa. The Kirstenberch gardens I mentioned earlier were created by him. Also, two large colonies were created in his name – South Rhodesia and North Rhodesia. Today we call them Zimbabwe and Zambia, respectively.
Black people didn’t fare very well in these mines. At first some of them had their own claims, but the Afrikaans people eventually caused them to give up all their claims. Blacks were the workers in the mines, and conditions for them became increasingly ghetto-like. The only blacks that did fairly well were the ones who came by to sell food and supplies.
Here is one of the (recreated) tunnels used to get to the diamonds:
The museum also had a display of the biggest diamonds in the world – all of them recreations. The biggest diamond ever found in Kimberly was 616 carats, uncut. The biggest diamond ever found in the world was over 3100 carats – it was cut down into 9 smaller diamonds (still huge). Also, red diamonds are the rarest and therefore most expensive. They don’t have red diamonds in Kimberly.
Outside the museum they had a section of town, just like it was back in the old mining days. It felt a little bit like the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan, or like being in one giant antique store/town. The only thing I really liked was the old bowling alley, which they called Skittle Alley (skittles are the pins):
Back in Joburg, we returned our little Kia to the Tempest Car Rental shop in Sandton City. By the way, we noticed that we drove more than 6000 kilometers during the trip. Whew!
Sydney and his family received us once again. We had one more day before our departure, and on this day they took us to the nearby town of Bethanie, where Patricia’s sister’s family lives. They wanted to show us what village life is like.
The day was a lot of fun. We met the family – Patricia’s sister Loraine (“Snona”), her husband Louis, and two of their sons, Katlego and Letlotlo. Louis is an architect/builder, and he built a bunch of the homes in the village, including their own. It was a nice place with a huge backyard. Sydney said that he’s planning to retire there, and he already got permission from the local chief to do so (since he married one of the village daughters). We took a walk around, visiting various relatives in the area, and then we set up a picnic in the backyard. It was very relaxing, and a nice change from all the running around that Pnina and I did over the last few weeks.
Pnina and I pulled out our dice, intending to teach our game of 10,000. But instead we ended up playing a different dice game they taught us, something called “ludo”:
It’s pretty simple. You roll dice and try to move your pieces all the way around the board. When you get back to your section, you can enter the middle column and go “home”. If someone “eats” you (by stepping exactly on your square) then that piece goes back to start. The only exception is the squares marked X. Those squares are safe – you can’t be eaten there. Also, to start the game you need to get a 6 in order to place your piece on the X.