CHS guest lecture - Prof. JAN-BART GEWALD (Leiden University): "Diamonds and Dust: The Toxic Legacy of Diamond Mining in Kimberley South Africa, 1870-1920"
|When:||Th 23-03-2023 16:00 - 17:30|
|Where:||Room 1312.0013, Harmonie building|
Prof. dr. Jan-Bart Gewald, professor of African History and erstwhile Director of the African Studies Centre at Leiden University will give a guest lecture at the Centre for Historical Studies, entitled: "Diamonds and Dust: The Toxic Legacy of Diamond Mining in Kimberley South Africa, 1870-1920"
There is a city built on diamonds in southern Africa. The city is invariably described by visitors not in terms of glitter and glamour, but in one of the two following ways; Kimberley is hot and dusty, or Kimberley is cold and dusty.
The city of Kimberley, provincial capital of the Northern Cape Province, South Africa, is built upon and among the detritus of no less than five diamond mines that were in operation between 1871 and 2020. Beginning in 1870 thousands upon thousands of men scoured the earth searching for diamonds, resulting in the creation of the “Big Hole”, the largest hole in the world dug by human hands. This deep level mining for countless wealth came at an enormous environmental cost and was associated with extensive tree clearing for timber and firewood in a radius of 250 km of the mines. In addition diamond mining was coupled with the establishment of enormous barren mine dumps of waste across which the harsh winds of the highveld move at will.
Writing in 1872, Czech traveller Emil Holub, struggled to describe the impact on man and beast of the dust that enveloped the mining settlement, “A dull, dense fog … dense clouds of dust, first raised by the west wind from the orange-coloured sand on the plains, and then mingled with the loose particles of calciferous earth piled up in heaps amidst the huts on the diggings. … the blinding mist was so thick that we could only see a few yards before us; … , our faces and our clothes were literally encrusted. We only shared the fate of all new-comers, in feeling much distressed and really ill; the very horses snorted and sneezed, and showed that the condition of things was no less painful to them than to their masters”. Throughout the years that followed visitors to the city have invariably described similarly distressing scenes.
The paper to be presented will seek to describe the socially skewed long-term impact of toxic mining dust upon the inhabitants of Kimberley, and the business and political policy responses to this public health hazard between 1870 and 1920. The paper is based upon wide-ranging literary and archival research, coupled with extensive fieldwork visits to Kimberley and its mining sites in the past four decades.
About the speaker
Prof. dr. Jan-Bart Gewald is professor of African History and erstwhile Director of the African Studies Centre at Leiden University in the Netherlands, associate researcher at the department of History Stellenbosch University, and 2022 research fellow at STIAS (Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies). He has published extensively on southern Africa. He is currently writing a multi-species history of mining in Kimberley, South Africa between 1870 and 1920.