09-Mar-2002 -- The Orange River is one of South Africa’s major rivers, crossing almost the whole country from east to west. It rises in the mountains of Lesotho, divides the Free State from the Northern Cape and the Eastern Cape, and further west it forms the border between South Africa and Namibia, before exiting to the Atlantic Ocean between Alexander Bay and Oranjemund. Along the way it gathers in the waters of many other rivers, including the Caledon and the Vaal rivers. This river picks up large quantities of silt, much of it the red-orange sands of the Kalahari in the Northern Cape, hence the name given by the Settlers.
The Orange River is also known as the Gariep, meaning “great river” in the San language. Virtually at the point where the Free State, the Northern Cape and the Eastern Cape meet is the Gariep dam, constructed years ago as part of an ambitious project to provide water to the dry Eastern Cape. The Orange-Fish Tunnel is possibly the longest underground water tunnel in the world, with a total length of 82.45 km. This dam was originally known as the Hendrik Verwoerd Dam, after one of the great architects of apartheid.
So why am I carrying on about this river and dam? Well, together they form a most significant border. This has long been a political border, first between the old Free State Republic and the Cape Colony, and later after the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910, the border between the Orange Free State province and the Cape Province. However, if you visit the region, it is difficult to see any difference between the North and South. It is in fact all one continuous area with similar soil, climate, rainfall patterns, etc. This is the northern Karroo which is sometimes thought of as a semi-desert, but is an important sheep farming area.
The climate around the dam is mostly hot and dry, well suited to sheep- and cattle farming. Confluence 30S 26E is located roughly 50 km north of the Gariep Dam, and less than 30 km from the small town of Trompsburg, within 200 metres of a gravel road running between the farms. In order to reach the exact Confluence I had to climb over yet another barbed-wire fence.
There is an art to climbing over farm fences. There is the kind of fence with four or five strands of barbed wire strung at regular intervals, where one can stretch one strand downwards and the other upwards, and so crawl through the gap (very carefully!). Then there are the fences with closely spaced strands, and those covered with wire mesh, (to keep the jackals from getting at the sheep), where the only choice is to climb over. But the real problem in climbing over a fence is to find a point or pole where one can safely climb over without doing any damage to the fence. I would hate to complete a surreptitious confluence visit, only to have to go looking for the farmer to apologise for damaging his fence. I’m now getting quite good at climbing fences, but still managed one long scratch on my shin which bled profusely for a few minutes afterwards. Quick: When was the last time I had my anti-tetanus injection? Can’t remember… Get the first-aid kit out of the 4x4 and use gallons of anti-septic cream!
The pictures show the typical vegetation of the region: Some grass, many low bushes, and many large termite heaps. The veld was looking particularly good during our late-summer visit, with unusually good rains over the last few weeks. There were no animals in the immediate location of the Confluence, but we photographed some sheep and cattle a few kilometres up the road.
Also near Trompsburg is the small town of Philippolis, founded as a mission station by the London Missionary Society, and named after Dr John Philip, the superintendent of the Society in South Africa. Adam Kok, the Griqua leader settled here with his people in 1826, but eventually sold the land to the Free State government before moving to Griqualand East. Philippolis was also the birthplace of Sir Lourens van der Post, and the house in which he was born is now a national monument.