The Big Hole of Kimberley

A newspaper headline caught my attention today: “Is the Big Hole caving in?”

It appears that the Big Hole of Kimberley, a huge open-pit diamond mine in the Northern Cape, may be caving in. For many, many years, the town of Kimberley has been famous for having the ‘largest’ open pit mine in the world excavated by hand (sadly, this may be untrue). It’s also famous for very high summer temperatures, but – oddly – that doesn’t seem to attract tourists…

According to the Wikipedia, 50,000 miners dug the hole with picks and shovels (yislaaik, can you imagine?!) between 1866 and 1914, yielding 2,722 kg of diamonds. It is 463 metres wide. Although it had been excavated to a total depth of 240 metres, it was partly infilled with debris, reducing its depth to about 215 metres. Over the years it has also filled with about 40 metres of water, so there is only 175 metres visible now. Perhaps that doesn’t sound like much, but I definitely wouldn’t want to fall in there!

In 2005, a chap by the name of Steve Lunderstedt did some research about man-made mines. He concluded that the Jagersfontein Mine, south-west of Bloemfontein (the ‘capital’ of the old Orange Free State) was in fact the largest open-pit hand-excavated mine. It had been dug by hand down to a depth of 203 metres by 1911.

Now it appears that the Big Hole may be caving in, largely as a result of the damage caused by traffic and the proliferation of business around the area. De Beers, who owns the mine, has apparently been warning the Municipality for the last 25 years of increasing earth slippages (sounds positively alarming, doesn’t it?! I sure wouldn’t want to be driving past in one of those huge tour buses at the time…), and recently there have been new cracks and underground movements.

My suggestion: If you haven’t made the effort to drive up to Kimberley yet – now would be a real good time, before just a humungous mudpit remains. But if it is too late by the time you get there, then just cruise down to Jagersfontein Mine instead – after all, who wants to see the second largest mine in the world, if the first one is just a little distance further south?

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