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Kimberley. Not really known as an art epicentre. But wait, in the middle of town there’s the William Humphreys Gallery, one of the country’s finest public art institutions. Your blogger was there in July, showing off his latest work, and I tell you it was good. Under the hand of curator Ann Pretorius, the gallery has assembled a superb permanent collection. There’s a tea- room in a garden which is home to quite a few feral cats, as well as a statue of Queen Victoria. She stares determinedly at the palisade fence, a grandiose relic of a grandiose time. The passing students of Sol Plaatjie university pay Her not the slightest notice.

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a tot of Laudanum, anyone?

Approaching Kimberley from the south, you drive through bushveld with many beautiful thorn trees and historic battle sites. After just a little bit of semi- industrial stuff, you’re right in the town. A town that has a lot of history etched into it. This is where South Africa met Modernity. A vast onrushing money -grabbing multinational mob was unleashed right here on the arid plains, and the old pastoral country was dead and buried. Some of that mob did very well for themselves, leaving us some splendid homes to look at, like these in Carrington road.

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What is it about these houses? I think they’re marvellous, perfect in every way. So much better than the concrete bunkers favoured by today’s well-to-do. Glance downwards, and the paving stones are carved granite. There they are in the picture above. Hand carved granite paving stones! Not messing around then, your colonial-era road builders.They were in it for the long haul,  thinking Remain,  definitely. Near the CBD,  I found this architectural oddity:

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It comes complete with a trashed -out parking lot, and where are the windows? What would a future civilisation make of this edifice? Will they think it a temple to strange gods, the gods of small bright stones? A place where pale-skinned initiates peered for hours at the stones, in rooms without north-facing windows?

After the exhibition opening, we went to the Kimberley Club for a late and large supper. There are ghosts of a former world here, notably bad-hearted Cecil Rhodes. He lurks in the garden, warily keeping an eye on the door. These days, no doubt, new elites are hatching schemes and cutting deals at the same old bar, whiskies in hand. Coming out of the Club, I took a wrong turn and briefly went on a late-night drive through the CBD. For a little while I was lost and suddenly alone in the empty litter -strewn streets. I confess, a primal child- like tightening in the chest crept up on me. Then I came across a gang of black  men repairing the road outside the town hall.

Which way to Du ToitsPan road? I asked.

Ons praat nie Engels nie, praat Afrikaans! said they.

I passed a shebeen along the way. Loud and clear, the sounds of Elvis’s Blue Suede Shoes belted forth out of the darkness. I’m still trying to figure that out, that burst of rockabilly music where I never thought I’d find it.




J H Pierneef’s Station Panels are cornerstones of South African landscape painting. They were placed in the old Johannesburg Station as adverts to travel the country.

But did these alluring places ever really exist? And how have they changed?

Taking up the invitation to travel 80 years later, Carl Becker set off to find out.

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