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South African Diamond Mines, 1870s

by Stacey Greer
Topic(s): Imperialism


Table of Contents




Investigation Questions

How did the discovery of diamond mines contribute to the "Scramble for Africa" in the late 19th Century?

What were the working conditions like for the native population and European settlers?


Background

The Dutch East India Company established a colony at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 and administered it until 1795 when it fell into British hands.  The British returned Cape Colony to the Company for a three-year period before finally establishing permanent control in 1806. In the 1830s and 40s, a great majority of the Boers (as a group of the Dutch settlers had become known) migrated and established their own colony outside of British control. 

In 1866, a child of a Dutch farmer found the first diamond, measuring 22 carats, near the Vaal River, in what is now the country of South Africa.  A 83 carat diamond found in 1869 created a world-wide stir and initiated the "diamond rush" into South Africa. By 1871 searchers found diamonds in the lands surrounding the river and the process of dry-digging at four mines began.  The largest of these mines was called the Colesberg Kopje (Hill) or the Kimberley Mine; later it was nicknamed 'The Big Hole'.  The great wealth produced from these mines contributed to the "Scramble for Africa."  The capital from these South African diamond fields, the richest diamond deposit ever, was critical to the industrial development of South Africa. The main industries were gold mining, modern shipping ports, communication and travel networks throughout the sub-continent.  

Additionally, the increased immigration and the struggle to control these valuable resources led to conflict between the British and the Boers in the two Boer Wars (1880-1881) and (199-1901).  The British finally beat the Boers but not before causing devastation to the Boer population.

This lesson is intended to demonstrate the importance of the South African diamond fields to the imperialist drive to conquer Africa in the late 19th Century.  It should be used after students have a basic understanding of New Imperialism. It is a specific example of that helps explain how the search for raw materials was one of the strong motivations for Imperialism.

Many of the images have additional information that may provide helpful content knowledge. 


Activity - Photograph Analysis

1. Display Document #1, Photograph of Kimberley Mine, South Africa, 1872. Ask students to analyze the photograph using the following questions to guide their analysis:

  • What do you see in this photograph?  Describe the objects, people, actions, and physical setting.
  • Based on your observations, what inferences can you make about this photograph? (What are the physical conditions?  Who do you think the people in the front left are? What are the other people in the photograph doing?)
  • How might this photograph contribute to our understanding of New Imperialism in the late 19th Century?

2. Display Document #2: Free-for-all at the Big Hole, c. 1974 #3 Kimberley Diamond Mine, c. 1880, and then #4 Kimberley Diamond Mine: The Big Hole, c. 1950s.  Ask students to analyze the photographs in order using the following questions to guide their analysis:

  • What do you see in this photograph?  Describe the objects and physical setting.
  • Based on your observations, what inferences can you make about this photograph? (What has changed as compared to the previous image?  What may have contributed to this change?)
  • How might the local people feel about these changes?

3. Display Document #5, Abrahams Brothers, Diamond Buyers. Ask students to analyze the photograph using the following questions to guide their analysis:

  • What do you see in this photograph?  Describe the objects, people, actions, and physical setting.
  • Based on your observations, what inferences can you make about this photograph?
  • How does this add information to that we have already learned about the diamond industry in South Africa?
  • How might this photograph contribute to our understanding of New Imperialism in the late 19th Century?

 


Writing and Extension Activities

Writing Activity:

Ask students to respond to the Investigation Questions in writing.  This information should be a pre-writing activity that will provide specific evidence for students to respond to the bigger question of "What factors led to the 'Scramble for Africa'?

 Extension Activities:

 1. Document Analysis - There are several excellent primary source documents available on the web that will provide additional information for students to address the two Investigation Questions.  It is highly recommended that you excerpt segments from the longer pieces below.  Ask students to analyze the documents with the following questions:

  • Who wrote the document (name and likely position in society)? 
  • Who was the intended audience?  How might that have affected what he wrote?
  • What was the purpose of the document?  Why did the author write it?
  • According to the author, what are the benefits and challenges of mining for diamonds?
  • How does this document help answer the Investigation Questions?

Documents:

2. Connections to Today - Ask students to locate images and information about the Kimberley Mine in South Africa today.  Ask students:

  • How much wealth or weight in diamonds has the mine produced?  How has that changed over time (you could have students chart this)?
  • How has the physical characteristics of the mine and method of mining changed over time?
  • How has the use of labor changed over time?
  • Why has this mine been historically important to both Europeans and South Africans? 

 


Document #1: Kimberley Mine, South Africa, 1872

Document #2: Free-for-all at the Big Hole, Kimberley Mine, South Africa c. 1874

Document #3: Kimberley Diamond Mine, c. 1880

Document #4: Kimberley Mine: The Big Hole c. 1950s

Document #5: Abrahams Brothers, diamond buyers, South Africa