Visit Galeshewe, Kimberley’s oldest township, and you’ll discover friendly people, historic buildings and a rich history, including stories aplenty about the early days of diamond mining and resistance to political oppression.
Galeshewe was founded as “Number 2” location in 1878, soon after diamonds were discovered on the nearby Colesberg Kopje (a “kopje” is a hill) in 1871, and the world’s greatest diamond rush quickly followed. The little hill was actually the remains of a giant volcanic kimberlite pipe, which had exploded millions of years ago above the Earth’s surface. The kimberlite, also known as “blue ground” for its black-bluish colour, is rich in diamonds.
Diamonds totalling more than 14-million carats (an equivalent of 2 722kg) were removed between 1871 and 1914, when the Kimberley Mine, as it became known, was closed at the outbreak of World War I. With the frenzied digging of thousands of miners, the hill soon became a giant, hand-dug hole, more than 200m deep.
Thousands of people from all over the globe came to Kimberley in the search of riches. These included black Africans, many of whom worked on the mine and four other diamond mines that sprang up in Kimberley. In total, there are five kimberlite pipes in Kimberley, all of which became diamond mines – the Kimberley Mine or Big Hole, and the De Beers, Wesselton, Dutoitspan and Bultfontein mines. After the rise of the diamond mining company De Beers, which was founded in 1888, black workers lived in harsh conditions in labour compounds run by the company located in Number 2.
In 1952, Number 2 and its surrounds were officially renamed Galeshewe, after Kgosi Galeshewe of the Batlhaping people, who bravely stood up to the British colonial government. Galeshewe led the Phokwane Rebellion near Kimberley in the 1870s.
The rebellion followed an incident in which a white farmer shot 17 Batlhaping cattle that had wandered onto his land, on the pretext that they may have been infected with rinderpest, a bovine disease. The Batlhaping took the matter to court, only to lose against the farmer. Following the Phokwane Rebellion, Galeshewe was sentenced to prison for 12 years.
After his release, he led a second rebellion against the colonial authorities, the Langeberg Rebellion, and was again sentenced to prison. After escaping one year into his sentence, he was recaptured and spent another 10 years in the notorious Robben Island prison. The Batlhaping subsequently lost most of their land to the colonial authorities.
Today, Number 2 forms a part of the greater Galeshewe, which is home to over 100 000 people, according to the 2011 census. Galeshewe is part of the greater Sol Plaatje Municipality, which also incorporates the city of Kimberley.
Galeshewe has produced some well-known South Africans. The famous anti-apartheid leader Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe spent the last years of his life in Galeshewe, and practised as a lawyer from Number 2. Sobukwe founded the Pan Africanist Congress in response to apartheid, and in 1960 led a peaceful protest against the apartheid pass laws. This turned into the Sharpeville Massacre – when apartheid police shot and killed 69 people and wounded 180 more.
Like Galeshewe before him, Sobukwe was subsequently imprisoned on Robben Island, for nine years, and restricted to a small house so he could not associate with other prisoners. During his imprisonment, the apartheid authorities passed the “Sobukwe Clause”, which enabled them to extend the prison sentence of any political prisoner at their whim. Sobukwe’s three-year sentence turned into a nine-year sentence. The clause was never used on anyone else.
Sobukwe was banished to Kimberley after his release, where he was allowed to practise as a lawyer, but was under constant police surveillance. He died in Kimberley in 1978.
Former Bafana Bafana and Kaizer Chiefs star Jimmy Tau was born here, as was now-retired Constitutional Court Justice Yvonne Mokgoro.
The charismatic Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje was also associated with Number 2. Plaatje boasted many accomplishments, including being the first person to record what is now the first part of South Africa’s national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, with himself singing.
He also translated several Shakespeare plays into his home language of Setswana, and was one of the founding members and general secretary of the South African Native National Congress in 1912. This later became the African National Congress - the party that has led the national Parliament since South Africa’s democracy in 1994.
Plaatje was an outspoken critic of the 1913 Land Act, which reserved only 13% of the land for black South Africans and was one of the early cornerstones of pre-apartheid discrimination on the basis of race. He travelled to both England and the United States to speak out about the Land Act after it was promulgated.
Plaatje gave his last public lecture in Number 2’s Abantu Batho Hall (the “People’s Hall”), now called the Galeshewe Centre, in May 1932. An artist’s impression of this is painted on the front of the building – including Plaatje looking dapper in a mustard suit and a dozing lady among the young firebrands. Plaatje died in June 1932 and was buried in the West End Cemetery in Kimberley.
In Number 2, you’ll also find a monument to the Mayibuye Uprising, which started in November 1952 after a local ANC leader, Dr Arthur Letele, encouraged people to sit on “whites only” benches at the Kimberley Station and to block the whites-only entrance of the Post Office, to protest apartheid and as part of the national Defiance Campaign.
Letele and the other leaders were arrested and imprisoned, leading to protests in which 13 people were killed and 78 others wounded by the police. A painting on the wall of the Galeshewe Centre depicts a mother with her baby on her back, both shot and killed in the Mayibuye Uprising.
You can drive through Galeshewe on your own, or take a guided tour, or even do a cycle tour. Contact the Sol Plaatje Information Centre, 121 Bultfontein Road, Kimberley.
- Phone: +27 (0)53 830 6779
- Website: https://www.kimberley.co.za/places/kimberley/free/sol-plaatje-tourist-information-centre/