Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa, is simply the Cape of Good Hope without its cliffs--a long, low ridge bordered with yellow sand, looking indescribably dreary and desolate. It is chiefly remarkable for the perverse currents that sweep round it, which are not a whit less troublesome now than they were in the days when they goaded poor Captain Vanderdecken into swearing that imprudent oath which he is still expiating in his capacity of the Flying Dutchman.|
From this point the rugged outline of the coast becomes lower, flatter, and less picturesque; and long before midnight the last of the enthusiasts who are on lookout for "scenery" goes below in disgust.
But just about daybreak next morning we are all aroused by three or four successive shocks, which, in the graphic language of our old quartermaster, "send every body and everything everywhere." Books tumble headlong upon their owners head, as if despairing of getting their contents into it by any other method. Trunks and portmanteaus skip about as though bewitched, and the saloon echoes with a "crockery chorus" worthy of Handel himself. One of our lady passengers shrieks to a passing officer to know what is the matter, and receives the very comforting and intelligible answer that we are "beam on to the swell." Scrambling on deck a few minutes later, we find ourselves snugly anchored in Mossel Bay.
A queer little place it is, and in its way not a bad sample of South African ports as a class. A wide stretch of low, sandy hills, measled with scattered clumps of dark undergrowth; a big white light-house on a projecting head-land; a low reef jutting out into the sea below it, upon which the gnashing breakers foam and rage unceasingly; a big wave rolling past into the bay every now and then, as if to look about it; a broad, red, dusty post road stretching along the hillside like a vein in a cabbage-leaf; a few scores of putty colored houses, well apart from each other, as if they had all put one another in quarantine, and two or three architectural outcasts far away along the slope, as if they had either withdrawn from society in disgust or had been "cut" by the rest for some misdemeanor.
Our 12 hours detention here over 150 tons of cargo surprises no one, for the energy of the "enterprise" of Cape Colony are very much on a par with the enterprise of a snail opening up some new commercial highway through a strawberry patch. No country that I have yet visited follows out more religiously than South Africa the good old Arab maxim, Agit lil Shaitaun (hurry belongs to the devil.) The famous German professor who, when bidden to a wedding, traveled so slowly that he came just in time for the subsequent christening, would have been quite at home in Namaqua Land or Kaffraria.
When a man misses a train, he goes quite contentedly by the following. When he misses a steamer, he comforts himself with the recollection that there will be another next week. Everything seems bent upon doing its utmost to avoid unnecessary haste. The trains go at the rate of steamers, the steamers at the rate of stage-wagons, and the stage-wagons at a pace which might be overmatched with ease by any athletic caterpillar.
It must be owned, however, that the acquaintance of the British home authorities with their colony and its neighbors seems to advance as slowly as the progress of the colony itself. It is related on good authority that during the recent war with the Transvaal Boers, the Captain of an English iron-clad received orders from home to "lie off the town of Potchefstroom, but not to bombard it"--the said town lying several hundred miles inland, among the hills of the Transvaal.
Onward, ever onward, past mile after mile of dark bush-clad downs, interleaved with broad reaches of yellow sand, which combine with the deep blue sea to make the whole landscape appear like a gigantic copy of the Edinburgh Review. The tall, barber's pole light-house of Cape Recife, erect on its lonely sand spit in the midst of the sea, grows into shape and melts away again.
As we sweep around the promontory in the wide, smooth expanse of Algoa Bay, there appears far away on the port bow a large cluster of whitish-gray points, very much like the tents of a military encampment, hanging upon the steep ridge that overlooks the sea, and these, as the Captain tells me with a lurking grin, are in reality the houses of "the great city of Port Elizabeth."
It must be owned that this "dear old magnificent sand heap," as an African journalist affectionately called it the other day, is anything but attractive at first sight. The houses are all glaringly new and uniformly wear that look of sturdy uncompromising hideousness which stamps all the works of the British utilitarian who loves to show his devotion to business by making it utterly devoid of pleasure. But it offers a very different spectacle when seen after nightfall from the end of the wooden jetty--which is the Elizabethan's fashionable, and, indeed, only, promenade--under the glorious Summer moon of November.
Moonlight, like charity or a lawyer's wig, covers a multitude of sins. The dusty streets and unsightly houses have vanished, and their whereabouts is marked only by long lines of glow-worms winding up the dark hillside. Across the wide waste of shadowy sea in the background falls a broad sheen of silver light, in which the shattered ribs of a wrecked vessel, far out along the beach, stand gauntly up like the skeleton of some mighty sea monster. A deep sonorous hail comes floating over the silent waters from one of the unseen ships at anchor in the roadstead, whose presence is betrayed only by the light of the blue or crimson stars that hang upon their shadowy hulls.
It is indeed a scene of enchantment, and one which might well satisfy even the two lovers who, fondly imagining themselves invisible, are whispering together, hand in hand, beneath the romantic shade of a freight-wagon, too happy to have any fear of a sore throat or rheumatism before their sheep's eyes.
The early morning presents a scene of a different kind, which might serve as a study for some encampment of Attila's Huns when they burst into Europe 14 centuries ago, or for some halt of wandering Tartars such as I used to see on the Central Asian steppes during the Russian war with Khiva. Around the tall, slender obelisk that rises in the centre of the market square, just opposite the stately hewn-stone front of the Town Hall, welters a flood of yoked oxen, and big, clumsy wagons, and dark, lean, thick-lipped faces, and tattered cloaks of frieze or sheepskin, and small, cunning, rat-like eyes, and harsh voices raised in unceasing clamor.
Moment by moment the din and bustle increases. Fresh carts keep coming in on every side, laden with hay or garden stuff, and drawn by teams of black oxen almost as long as a railway train. European "plug" hats, red Turkish caps, and greasy wide-awakes jostle each other in the crowd, while the ruddy, well-bearded Englishman, the gaunt, dark, high-cheeked Kafir, the tall, sharp-featured Malay, the broad, burly, stolid Dutch farmer from "up country," and the narrow-eyed half-caste, with his barley-sugar complexion, succeed each other like the figures in a magic lantern.
On one side a knot of men are chattering briskly over a tusk of ivory; on the other an auctioneer is impressing upon his congregation the superlative merits of a sack of potatoes. Several horses, which have evidently had a long and hard ride since sunrise, are drinking at the fountain which surrounds the obelisk, and beside them a couple of native teamsters are wiping the moisture from their black, shining faces and "chaffing" each other with an accompaniment of laughter that sounds like the bellowing of their own oxen and a show of white teeth that would inevitably suggest dark and awful schemes to the mind of any passing dentist.
From the market-place a kind of paved precipice, justly named Prospect Hill, leads up the ridge, on the side of which Port Elizabeth hangs. Once fairly on the top the fresh breezy air, the dainty little white villas half-buried in flowers, the spreading trees that line either side of the road, make a very pleasant contrast to the hot, dusty, unsheltered ugliness of the lower town.
But the best part of the show is still to come. A tiny square fort on the highest point of the ridge attracts your attention, and you saunter around it, struck with admiration of the profound military science which has enabled it to defy all enemies by the simple device of a big rusty padlock on its crazy wooden door.
All at once you find yourself stopped short. Just in front of you the wide green uplands fall away in a sheer precipice of more than a hundred feet down to a small oval basin shut in at both ends by rocky heights, between which a tiny stream turns and winds, as if struggling to escape. On its banks a trim little factory stands within a high palisade, and all around are dotted a succession of iron-clad cottages formed of plates of "waved" metal, each surrounded by its own garden patch.
And as you turn your head, below you, on the other side, lie the straggling houses of the town and the broad, yellow sands beyond them, and the white-winged ships in the offing, and the boundless expanse of the glorious bay, blue and bright as the cloudless sky overhead.
Port Elizabeth is said to have made "great progress" during the last 10 years, which may well make any dispassionate observer wonder what it can possibly have been like before. But in some respects, at least, the place has made advances, which it would be flagrantly unjust to deny.
It has witnessed as many wrecks as Cape Town itself, and still keeps a number of shattered hulls "on view" along the beach, in gratifying proof of its extensive commerce.
It has established in its principal thoroughfare more than a dozen thriving bars, which are estimated to have made more persons drunk within a given time than the bars of any of the adjacent sea-ports.
It has justly earned the proud distinction of offering worse accomodation to travelers and charging higher for it than any other place in the district.
Finally, it has the merit--a priceless one in the eyes of both Dutch and English colonists--of "keeping down the cursed niggers," whose freedom of speech and action has been considerably stimulated by the result of England's recent wars in Zululand and the Transvaal. In Cape Town, where they are in a large majority, they seem to do pretty much as they please, but at Port Elizabeth the case is widely different.
As proof of this, I may mention that I saw yesterday a policeman lay his cane vigorously across the shoulders of a native who had been caught in the act of leaning against a post, a sample of police energy which I have seen paralleled in countries more civilized than South Africa. This morning I had the above little incident supplemented for me by the sight of an honest British butcher kicking a black man off the sidewalk into the road, seemingly for no reason except to keep his hand in, or rather, his foot.
GRAHAM'S TOWN, Nov. 30.--In this primitive country a journey of 106 miles is fairly equal to 500 anywhere else, and I have as good cause to rejoice at getting here without mishap as the pious Scotchman who had thanksgivings offered in church for his safe return from "his long and perilous journey to that far-away place called London."
The railway from Port Elizabeth to Port Alfred, at the mouth of the Kowie River, although all but completed, is at present open for traffic only as far as Graham's Town, about three-quarters of the entire distance. But the journey thither, though anything but rapid--the express speed of South African, as of East Indian, trains being about 16 miles an hour--is picturesque in the highest degree.
At first the cars sweep along the very edge of the smooth, bright sea, with a magnificent view of Algoa Bay on one side and the rugged panorama of the coast ridges on the other, above which, blue and shadowy in the far distance, looms the craggy mountain from which the worthy citizens of Port Elizabeth began to draw their water supply through pipes 28 miles long a few years ago, when they got tired of depending upon rain water and of paying 75 cents a bucket in the dry season.
But the sea is soon lost sight of, and now the track wanders off into a wide, dreary plain, thickly coated with scrub, cleft in all directions by dry water-courses and containing (as Paddy would say) no human habitations except ant-hills.
But little by little the distant hills begin to close round us, the ground on either side becomes higher and more rugged, the hot, close, lifeless atmosphere of the plain changes to a fresh bracing breeze. Trees of respectable size are seen mingling with the spiteful thorn-bushes that cover the lower ground for miles, and trailing clusters of passion-flowers festoon the whole front of the quaint little white station-houses that keep turning up in unexpected places every few miles, with names as queer as themselves--Zwartkops, Tankatara, Addo, Quarry Hole, Sandflats, Ballast Siding, and what not.
And now the evidences of our being in Africa increase and multiply on every hand. Shock-headed aloes and chain-like prickly pears bristle all around. Herdsmen black and wild-looking as their own beasts spring up from the grass to watch us as we rattle by. A troop of ostriches come tripping across an adjoining field, lifting their feet high at every step, and when their leader ducks his long neck in search of food, all the rest duck theirs in measured time, like recruits learning their drill.
From the summit of yonder mound 40 ages behold us in the shape of a brawny Kafir lady, lighly attired in a skirt about the size of a neck-cloth, and a flaming red handkerchief wound round her black face, which, thus surmounted, looks very much like Vesuvius during an eruption. Another "Black-hide Susan," with a satchel, comes plowing her way through the thicket, while three or four more peer out at us from the single opening (serving alike as door, window, and chimney) of a little beehive of dried mud thatched with a paste of clay and bark, such as those into which the Kirghiz chiefs of Turkestan used to welcome me nine years ago, or those which I saw at a later date on the border of the Sahara Desert.
And now we plunge right among the hills, and the wild mountain scenery reveals itself in all its splendor. So closely do the ridges hem us in on either side that more than once the projecting boughs actually brush the cars in passing. A nervous person might well be scared to see crags upon crags and trees upon trees piled up far overhead, as if the whole mountain might at any moment lap over, like the leaf of a book, and crush train and passenger out of existence.
Now we are rushing along the brink of a narrow gorge, through which, despite the parching heat of mid-summer, the river runs swift and strong amid forests of tall, feathery grass. Now we seem hanging in mid-air over a dark hollow, one impenetrable mass of thicket from top to bottom. Now our considerate engineer puts on the steam just as we approach a sharp curve, and sends us flying round the very lip of a precipice, at the foot of which sharp-edged stones lie points upward, all ready for our reception.
Every now and then a sudden break in the great mountain wall gives us a seemingly boundless view of the plain that we have left, and then all is gone, and we are shut in once more by matted leaves and jagged teeth of rock.
At length we burst forth all at once into the broad sunlit valley midway across which Alicedale Junction, with its half-dozen cottages and microscopic "Royal Hotel," lies between two ranges of hills like Stoura Village between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon on the way from Beyrout to Damascus. Here we leave the main line that runs northward to Craddock and turn off along the branch to Graham's Town, but the final details of my journey thither and my adventures on arrival must be reserved for another letter.
D. K. [DAVID KER]
The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1883 was equivalent to $23.05 in 2008.
TIME Magazine, February 12, 1951, p. 80:|
BUSINESS & FINANCE: GOLD & DIAMONDS:
Passing the Scepter
From a massive, block-long building in Johannesburg last week came a discreet announcement that set the trading marts of the world buzzing. Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, the world's king of diamonds and its prime minister of gold, was giving up a bit of his vast suzerainity. At 70, he relinquished directorships in seven of his 30-odd gold-mining companies--a step towards turning over his empire to his son and spit & image, 41-year-old Harry Oppenheimer.
This did not mean that Sir Ernest, last and greatest of South Africa's great "Randlords," was going to take things much easier. In his three-story citadel he would still work his usual 16 hours a day, still sit firmly in thc chairmanship of his Anglo American Corp. of South Africa, Ltd., the master holding company through which he has built an economic pyramid of more than 200 companies worth more than $2.5 billion. They control 15% of the Transvaal's gold production, 43% of its coal, 50% of its explosives, 9% of the world's copper, and a bewildering hodgepodge of enterprises ranging from breakfast foods to railways.
Acres of Diamonds. As chairman of De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd., a syndicate of seven companies, Sir Ernest also controls 95% of the world's supply of diamonds, and sees to it that the supply is always less than the demand. As always, war and inflation are now swelling the demand for diamonds, and Sir Ernest's cartel has opened up two idle mines to step up production. The wholesale price of gem diamonds has risen 20% in six months, and U.S. rearmament [for the Korean War] has sent the price of industrial diamonds (vital for cutting tools) soaring 100% since Korea. Not only capitalists buy diamonds: an "unknown buyer" thought to be the Soviet Union has suddenly started buying all it can in the Belgian markets, presumably to build its own stockpile for machine tools for war.
Sir Ernest, who has one of the world's prize collections of rare diamonds, started learning about stones at 16. The son of a middle-class Jewish family in Friedberg, Germany, he went to London to learn the diamond-cutting trade, was sent to South Africa at 22 to look after his London employer's diamond properties. The year was 1902, when Cecil Rhodes, who had formed the De Beers combine out of hundreds of small claims, died murmuring: "So little done, so much to do." Oppenheimer was just the man to do it. He stayed in Kimberley and went into mining on his own.
Shrewd, eager and personable, he was enough of a success by 1912 to be elected Kimberley's mayor at 32 (he was twice re-elected, later went to Parliament). In 1917 he teamed up with an American engineer, William Lincoln Honnold, and, with backing from J. P. Morgan and others, formed Anglo American. While everybody else swarmed to the Central Rand, Oppenheimer tried his luck in the Far East Rand and struck it rich, did it again 100 miles away where nobody thought there was any gold.
At the end of World War I, Sir Ernest got a five-year exclusive sales contract covering the rich diamond fields of Germany's former colony in South-West Africa. He used this tremendous lever to pry his way into the clam-tight De Beers syndicate. In 1929, after secretly buying up 20% of De Beer's shares, he took over the syndicate. It keeps tight control of diamonds by persuading any who find new fields to join the syndicate and reap the benefits its controlled prices.
New Bonanza. Sir Ernest's biggest interest now is not diamonds, but gold, from which Anglo American last year made £11 million ($30.8 million) profit. His Anglo American is the biggest single holder in the immensely rich new fields of the Orange Free State, and has put up more than half of the £200 million ($560 million) being spent to develop them. Believing that South Africa must wipe out the disgrace of its mining "kraals," where Bantu workers live like prisoners, he has led the spending of £70 million by mine operators to develop a model village to house 100,000 people at the new Free State mining center near Odendaalsrust. By July he expects to start taking gold out of his first mine there, open another shortly after. Says Sir Ernest: "This is the most extensive mining development the world has ever known."
In this new venture, Sir Ernest's right-hand man is son Harry, a deputy chairman of Anglo American. Harry, who was educated at Oxford, and captained a company of Britain's "Desert Rats" against Rommel's troops in World War II, lives with his wife and two children in a smaller villa adjoining "Brenthurst," the palatial residence of his father and stepmother outside Johannesburg. Harry likes fast cars and fast horses (he recently gave his father a prize colt, Ossian, which won Johannesburg's summer handicap the first time out). When Parliament is in session (Harry has succeeded to his father's old seat*), he drives the nearly 1,000 miles to Cape Town at breakneck speed.
Neither Sir Ernest nor his heir need fear that the prime source of the dynasty's power will ever diminish. One of the first great Randlords, old Barney Barnato, put it tersely, many years before Flapper Lorelei Lee [lead character in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos (1925), played by Marilyn Monroe in the movie of the same name]: "Women are born every day, and men will always buy diamonds for women."
* In the party of the late great General [Jan Christiaan] Smuts, opposed to the fanatically anti-Negro [Daniel Francois] Malan.