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Hugh Clifford David Jenner-Clarke 1929-2016

Distinguished and successful diamond consultant in Namibia

xfgjBorn the eldest son of George and Vera Jenner-Clarke of Sutton, Surrey, Hugh and his younger brother (also named David) grew up in “Roselea”. George was a general dealer in groceries and fresh produce from a typical corner shop in the High Street, Sutton. Hugh attended a local Grammar School where he obtained his A-Levels. His London University BSc degree in geology followed four years of study at Chelsea Polytechnic.

His career in geology commenced soon afterwards, with appointment as junior geologist with Anglo- American Corporation of South Africa, seconded to the Consolidated Diamond Mines of South West Africa (CDM, currently known as NAMDEB) at Oranjemund. At 24 he boarded the RMS Pretoria Castle in Southampton, arriving in Cape Town in September 1954 and proceeding almost immediately to Oranjemund. The contrast between the green fields of his hometown and the Namib Desert, must have astounded him.

It is certainly true to say that most people exposed for the first time - especially during those early days - to this isolated region of South-western Africa with its dramatic desert mountain scenery would depart greatly impressed and awed. The young son of the Sutton shopkeeper was no exception and it left an indelible impression. At CDM Hugh worked under two of the stalwarts of the West Coast diamond industry, Darryl Hallam and Dr Charles Stocken.

During October 1954, soon after his initial introduction to CDM’s style of diamond exploration at Oranjemund (mostly at the so called G Area), Hugh was attached to a geological mapping programme – the first since before 1914 – covering the barren, very isolated area east and north of Oranjemund up to the Sperrgebiet boundary. This area included the infamous Obib Dune Field, part of the area that was later on named ‘The Namib Sand Sea’ by geographers. This programme did not last long as the geologist in charge was beginning to show signs of a nervous breakdown, and told  Management at Oranjemund: “There are troublesome lions in the area and I’m not going back to work there again!”.  In later years it became well known that the deep umphumph sounds made by a male ostrich patrolling his territory at night, are almost identical to those made by a male lion patrolling his!

Unperturbed by these challenges, Hugh steadily became more attached to its natural beauty and unique features. The mapping programme having been shut down, Hugh was spared from enduring endless months of fruitless work and returned to Oranjemund. His duties were to map and record the geology of the prospecting trenches at Kerbehuk and Affenrucken.

He remained working on raised beach deposits until March 1956 when he was seconded to an exploration programme for uranium in the southern interior of South West Africa (now Namibia). This programme soon developed into a search for kimberlites, targeting the drainage areas of the Konkiep and southern Fish Rivers. Hugh enjoyed this period immensely; while the work was largely stereotyped and sterile he was in the company of several young and enthusiastic, lively colleagues living a rugged but carefree camp life, so much different from the claustrophobic, rigidly confined and overly regulated Diamond Area No. 1.

However his marine alluvial capabilities were needed at Oranjemund where he returned at the end of June that year. This time he was given charge of prospecting the high level beach deposits at Kerbehuk north of the main (at that time) mining blocks of G-Area, Uubvley and Mittag. Here at least, CDM provided well-made though small transportable living quarters for its field staff. Hugh spent a considerable period of time there, largely in the company of his fondly remembered and devoted Ovambo personal servant and cook, Festus. Weekends were spent at Oranjemund, providing social stimulus as well as geological discussions and collaborations with colleagues at base.

Hugh was reserved and a reluctant party-goer, and so he remained throughout his life. Having lived and worked in remote areas myself, I know the value of good friendships under trying and challenging conditions. Hugh was blessed with two such friendships that started in those early days in Oranjemund, and continued to support him for the rest of his life.

R Baxter-Brown arrived in Oranjemund early in 1956 after graduating from Rhodes University in Grahamstown the previous year. Their friendship was immediate and empathy of personal interests developed. In my mind it was a case of two complete strangers meeting, but both of them true gentlemen and acute Earth scientists and the bonding of a lifelong friendship was inevitable. They discussed theories of diamond transportation and concentration and visualised a time when they would be free and able to launch their own diamond exploration ideas. In the comfort of their secure surroundings it all seemed so effortless and geologically obvious, but many years were yet to pass before it would materialize.

More or less the same time Hugh met Cynthia Laubscher, described by Baxter-Brown as “a remarkable outgoing and lively personality, an original thinker and teacher as well as a talented artist”. A lifelong platonic friendship developed. In April 1957 Hugh was transferred to the De Beers Kleinzee Mine at the mouth of the Buffels River, accompanied by a mining engineer, Gary Browne and his wife, both friends of Hugh’s. Not long afterwards Baxter was transferred to Lichtenburg to prospect the farm Pypklip for De Beers, Kimberley, and the two thereafter kept in touch with the occasional letter.

At Kleinzee Hugh began to plan his departure from De Beers in order to seek out a financial backer to grubstake his plans to “discover the source of the Kleinzee diamonds in the headwaters of the Buffels River”. The Bushmanland plateau was the obvious starting point for testing the theory and HHHugh consumed all the then-known literature, documenting the earlier exploration work done on the plateau - in particular that of Dr E Reuning in the 1920s. Hugh’s field research was initially hampered by the ban on diamond exploration on State Land in Namaqualand during 1927 to 1963.

During 1958 Hugh bade the town of Kleinzee and De Beers goodbye and paid a brief visit to his family in England. Returning to Namaqualand he based himself in Springbok and soon thereafter met the remarkable Gertjie Niemoller of Pofadder, a multi-millionaire sillimanite miner and very successful farmer. Hugh convinced Gertjie of the merits of kimberlite exploration in the Bushmanland and a deal was struck that gave Hugh a minimal budget, sufficient for obtaining option agreements from farm owners (in those days, the property owner still had the first right to apply for an exploration/mining authorisation on his property, which right became the basis of an agreement with the mining companies). The agreement with Niemoller also provided Hugh with the funds to run a small exploration team. With the aid of aerial photographs and meticulous field mapping, Hugh soon recognised upwards of 200 meta-kimberlite pipes in the Bushmanland.

Those were the days before Clifford’s Rule and the seminal work done on kimberlite mineralogy by John Gurney and others, and a flurry of excitement filled the Bushmanland air. The mining companies did not want to be left behind, and the “Bushmanland kimberlite” race was on. Alwyn Cornelissen  Newmont’s O’okiep Copper Company), Roderick Baker and others (De Beers) and Keith Whitelock (Rand Mines) were the main players. The confidence in the Bushmanland Project combined with the enthusiasm of Hugh Jenner-Clarke and Niemoller, paved the way for the recruitment of Baxter-Brown to the project. Baxter had then just completed the prospecting of Pypklip and its proclamation as an Alluvial Diggings for the benefit of the local digger community, and resigned from De Beers with the intention of further studies at Imperial College in London. Before leaving South Africa he agreed to join Hugh and Niemoller on his return from London.

Baxter returned via an unconventional route that took him through Egypt, the Red Sea, overland from Mombasa to Kitwe, then Salisbury and home in the Eastern Cape. In the meantime Hugh had been frantically trying in vain to reach him to say that he should not return here, since it has been shown that the two ‘diamonds’ found in one of the Bushmanland pipes turned out to be highly resorbed crystals of clear, brilliant yellow zircon. Hugh then continued his Bushmanland work on a reduced scale and Baxter was given the task of exploring the lower Sout River north of Vanrhynsdorp.

Diamonds of excellent quality were found, but small - and after a while Niemoller quit diamond exploration. Soon thereafter Hugh and Baxter decided to become diamond consultants with emphasis on alluvial exploration. Thus the company Asam Minerals was born, headquartered in Springbok. Building a client base was a slow and difficult process but consultancies took them to many exploration sites in Namaqualand, the Kimberley region, the Middle Orange (where they found the first diamonds on Niewejaarskraal between the historical diggings of Saxendrift and the town of Prieska), Botswana and even as far afield as Brazil.

Shalom Hugh, we’ll meet again!

By Assie Van der Westhuizen

Hugh Clifford David Jenner-Clarke 8 December 1929 (Sutton, Surrey, UK) – 31 March 2016 (Cape Town, South Africa).  First published in GeoBulletin of the Geological Society of South Africa.  Reproduced with permission.