Jagersfontein in the southern Free State was once world-famous for its high-quality diamonds. After a 40-year slump, the little village looks to have a bright future again, as a new mining company begins to work the dump tailings and a local craft project produces world-class Afro-French wire and glass keepsakes. Jagersfontein in the southern Free State is a village with a colourful past and a creative present.
The first air fatality in Africa occurred here, as did South Africa’s most prestigious Victorian-era horse-race meet. King Edward VIII, then the Prince of Wales, spent 3 days in 'Jagers' (as it’s affectionately known) during a 1925 royal visit. An hour’s drive south of the provincial capital, Bloemfontein, the dusty streets of Jagersfontein belie the fact that it once held world's attention as a rich diamond mine. The notorious American gangster Al Capone once wore a diamond (as a tiepin) that was mined in Jagersfontein. The famous actress Elizabeth Taylor also wore a 'Jagers' diamond'.
Jagersfontein is 1 of the world’s oldest diamond mining towns, with operations having begun in 1870. The 'blue-white Jagers' diamond' has become a standard regarding diamond quality throughout the world. One of the most precious diamonds ever mined (the Excelsior diamond, all of 995,2 carats and valued at R1,2-billion) came from what some claim to be the world’s largest hand-dug vertical open mine: Jagersfontein. (The other contender is the Big Hole in Kimberley, in the Northern Cape province.)
The mine closed down in 1971, but there were still diamonds about. In 1999, a local gardener found a 12-carat diamond in his employer’s flower bed - he was later rewarded with a third of the stone’s value. The mine will soon reopen as a new company works the tailings dump. However, Jagersfontein is arguably more famous nowadays for its fine French-African wire-work and stained-glass craftsmanship than it is for its diamonds. The local craft project, Glaasstudio, services a national demand and occasionally exports its top-quality products to Australia and Europe.
Jagersfontein is worth a morning’s visit, to see the Big Hole and the various Herbert Baker-designed buildings – and, of course, to wander through Glaasstudio and pick out a couple of wire-and-glass mementos.
How to get here
Jagersfontein lies 1 hour's drive south of Bloemfontein on the R706. It is on tourism organisation Open Africa's Horizon Route. Visit Open Africa to see other attractions in this area.
Best time to visit
Jagersfontein is most visually attractive at the change of seasons, in April/May, August/September.
Where to stay
Ask Gil Vermaak at Glaasstudio and she will direct you to good lodgings.
Tours to do
Big Hole of Jagersfontein - inquire at Glaasstudio for keys and a guide.
DID YOU KNOW?
Jagersfontein once boasted 34 bars and 5 hotels at the height of its diamond boom.