The Portuguese set foot in South Africa in the 15th century, and the Dutch settled at the “Cape of Storms” in 1652. But the noses of the first interlopers into southern Africa were not sharp enough to fore-smell Kimberley’s hidden diamonds or the Witwatersrand’s entombed gold.
Diamonds were only discovered in 1867 at Kimberley, and, 19 years later, gold on the Witwatersrand.
The group – of mainly Englishmen and Jews – that descended on Kimberley, following the discovery of diamonds was largely the same bunch of money-mongers who flocked to the Witwatersrand when news of gold broke.
By the time the Witwatersrand became the new Mecca of wealth seekers, Kimberley had already produced a diamond cartel led by Cecil John Rhodes – including such outstanding figures as Alfred Beit, Charles Rudd, Barney Barnato, Julius Wernher, J. B. Robinson, Jules Porgès, H. L. Eckstein, Lionel Phillips, and others.
In Kimberley, Rhodes persuaded most of these men – some of whom were initially his arch-enemies, such as Barnato – to form a cartel to control the price of diamonds in London, then the centre of the global diamond trade. De Beers became the cartelised company, named after brothers Johannes and Diederik De Beer, who had sold the land on which the diamonds were discovered.
On the Witwatersrand, these men formed many gold companies financed by money they had made at Kimberley and through investments from London, Paris, Berlin, and the US.
Although Rhodes was by no means the richest his company, the Goldfields Company, was among the giants.