South Africa: From the Big Hole to the Big Race - Le Mans and the SA Connection


A total of 252,500 spectators attended the 2019 24-Hours of Le Mans. Television coverage reached more than 800 million people. Some of the 61 cars in the main event operate on seasonal budgets of €100-million. But there is room, still, for a little nostalgia in such big-bucks, high-technology motorsport, particularly in an event with an unlikely South African connection.

"Never interrupt someone doing something you said couldn't be done." - Amelia Earhart

Nine thousand kilometres away from Le Mans, in South Africa's Northern Cape province, in the city of Kimberley, is the Star of the West bar. Opened originally in a zinc shack as Diamond Lil's Tavern, it catered for fortune seekers in the diamond rush of the early 1870s.

The treasure hunters had been attracted by the find of an 83-carat diamond, later to become famous as the Star of South Africa, which caused Sir Richard Southey, the colonial secretary at the Cape, to declare: "This is the rock on which the future success of South Africa will be built."

After the pub was fitted out with a bar counter salvaged from the wreck of a ship, the Star of the West, which had foundered on the wild West...

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