Alfred Beit

(15 February 1853 – 16 July 1906)

Alfred Beit was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany. He was the eldest son and second of six children of an affluent Jewish-German citizen of Hamburg. His younger siblings included Otto Beit.

Beit was apprenticed to Amsterdam diamond firm Jules Porgès & Cie, where he developed a talent for examining stones. He made his first fortune in property speculation. Responding to a demand for business premises, he bought a piece of land and built twelve corrugated iron sheds for offices and rented eleven out monthly and kept one for himself. Twelve years later he sold the land for a considerable profit.

In 1875, Beit was sent to Kimberley, South Africa by his firm to buy diamonds — following the diamond strike at Kimberley. He became a business friend of Cecil Rhodes through the latter’s  role in the Kimberley Central Company. With Rhodes Beit proceeded to buy out digging ventures and to eliminate opposition such as Barney Barnato.

Beit, remaining in Kimberley, rapidly became one of a group of financiers who gained control of the diamond-mining claims in the Central, Dutoitspan, and De Beers mines. With Rhodes being an active politician, Beit provided a lot of the planning and financial backing behind the scenes.

Beit’s diamond interests were mainly concentrated in the Kimberley mine and he focused his attention on the Kimberley Central Company aiming to expand its interests.

In 1886 Beit extended his interests to the newly discovered goldfields of the Witwatersrand. In his business ventures there he made use of financiers Hermann Eckstein and Sir Joseph Robinson. Together with the latter, he founded the Robertson Syndicate. He also founded engineering and importing firm Wernher, Beit & Co, through which he imported mining engineers from the US. Beit was among the first to adopt deep-level mining.

Beit became life-governor of De Beers and also a director of numerous other companies such as Rand Mines, Rhodesia Railways and the Beira Railway Company. His South-African assets formed the basis for the Corner House Group, which controlled holding-companies like the Rand Mines and acted as an important network for several of the leading Randlords of the time.

In 1888, Beit moved to London where he felt he was better positioned to manage his financial empire and support Rhodes in their Southern African ambitions.

Inspired by Rhodes’ imperialist vision, Beit took part in the planning and financing of the unsuccessful Jameson Raid of late 1895 which was intended to trigger a coup in the South African Republic in the Transvaal. As a result of this, Rhodes resigned as Prime Minister of the Cape, and both he and Beit were found guilty by the House of Commons inquiry. Beit was obliged to resign as director of the British South Africa Company, but was elected vice-president a few years later. With the death of Rhodes in 1902, Beit, as one of the trustees, helped control the enormous estate.

Alfred Beit endowed the Alfred Beit Bridge across the Limpopo river. The border town Beitbridge was named in his honor.

Beit never married and had no children. He died at Tewin Water on 16 July 1906 after experiencing a rapid deterioration in his health.

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