DIAMOND in SOUTH AFRICA
Dry Diggings (suite)
The wages paid to overseers and miners had of course to correspond with these high prices. The overseers and officials, who were all white men, were paid up to £2,000 per annum. White miners, of whom in 1882 and 1883 there were about 1,500, received from £4 to £8 per week, while the native workers, about 11,000 in number, were paid 22s. to 30s. per week.
All these details apply to the time when Kimberley was still unconnected by railway with the coast towns. Since 1885, it has been joined to Capetown by a line 647 miles long, and to Port Elizabeth by one of 485 miles. The construction of these railways considerably diminished the cost of transport, and, in consequence, the price of many of the necessaries of life fell; moreover, it became possible to make more extensive use of coal, which was brought both from England and also from the South African mines at Stromberg in the Indwe district of Cape Colony, a place which has also been connected by rail with Kimberley.
For comparison with the prices quoted above, a few of more recent date may be given. In 1891 a ton of English coal cost at Kimberley £8 l0s. , and 100 lbs. of wood fetched 2s. The transport of goods from Port Elizabeth to Kimberley costs from £6 to £8 ($850 to $1,100) per ton, and the journey occupies only about thirty hours, instead of four weeks, as was formerly the case. The reduction in the cost of living is of course accompanied by a corresponding fall in wages from £3 to £6 l0s. per week is paid to white men, while Kaffirs earn at most 24s. per week, exclusive of housing, wood, water and medical attendance.
The climate of Kimberley cannot be considered anything but healthy; in winter it is mild and pleasant; in summer, however, from September to March, it is often very hot, in spite of its elevation of 4,012 feet above sea level. There is often no rain for months together, and the whole of the rainfall usually takes place in a few heavy downpours. Since the erection of suitable dwellings for the miners and the improvement in their mode of living, the deadly camp-fever has been almost unknown, and the district can no longer be considered an unhealthy one, a consideration which has an important bearing on the output of diamonds.
In spite of the many and varied difficulties which have been encountered, the development of mining operations at Kimberley has been so extensive that, although the stones are of relatively sparing occurrence in the "blue ground," an enormous number must have been found. An idea of the extent of the output may be derived from an inspection of the above table, which is copied from Reunert. In this table is given the yearly export of diamonds from South Africa since 1867, the total value of this export, and the mean value per carat, the whole of the information having been derived from the most reliable sources available. The yearly export, though not exactly identical with the production, approaches it very nearly, and is sufficiently close for all practical purposes. The numbers quoted in the table may differ slightly from other returns, but are accurate enough to convey a correct idea of the gigantic scale of the output.
It should be remarked that the numbers given in this table for the years 1867 to 1882 are based only on estimates. Exact statistical records have only been kept since the establishment of the "Board for the Protection of Mining Interests" in 1882. It may be difficult, from the numbers given in the table, to form a correct conception of the enormous quantity of diamonds, which have been exported from South Africa; a few concrete examples are therefore appended as an aid to the imagination. The total weight of stones exported amounts to almost 51,000,000 carats, which is equal to 10,500 kilograms, or nearly 10 1/3 tons. These stones would fill a box five feet square and six feet high; they would also form a pyramid having a base nine feet square and a height of six feet.
Rafal Swiecki, geological engineer email contact
This document is in the public domain.