Namaqualand

(prior to 1910)

Magisterial districtof 47 962 sq km (18 518 sq miles) in the North-Western Cape, after Gordonia(53 546 sq km) the largest in the Republic of South Africa. The regionis sometimes referred to as Little Namaqualand, so as to distinguishit from Great Namaqualand (or Nama-land) in South-West Africa. 'Namaqua'is the plural form of Nama, the name of the large Hottentot tribe wholived here when the first Whites came to South Africa. The western boundaryis the Atlantic Ocean, from the Orange River mouth in the north to apoint 72 km north of the Olifants River mouth. The northern boundaryis the Orange River, with a frontage of 346 km on South-West Africa.Formerly a part of Clanwilliam, Namaqualand was created a separate districtin 1856. The first civil commissioner, appointed in 1860, had his seatat Komaggas, 40 km south-west of Springbok, the present seat of the magistracy.The first farms were allotted in 1850.

Topographically the region consists of three zones: the coastal Sandveld,stretching up to 50 km inland and rising to about 300 metres; the brokenmountainous 'Hardeveld', some 60 km wide and lying at about 900 metres;and an inland zone, Little Bush-manland, lying at about the same elevationbut level in nature, with a very ill-defined drainage system, mainlynorth to the Orange River. For the rest the drainage is mainly towardthe Atlantic, with numerous watercourses rising in the broken range ofmountains that runs down the centre of the district. This range formspart of the rampart separating the coastal strip from the inland plateauright round South Africa. The range contains some fairly high points,notably the Kamiesberg (1531 metres), 72 km south of Springbok, and anotherpeak 16 km farther south, which rises to 1707 metres. The river withthe largest drainage area is the Buffalo (BufFels), which enters theAtlantic Ocean 50 km south of Port Nolloth.

Therainfall is mostly below 250 mm and even as low as 50 mm a year. Alongthe coast 77 % of therain falls during the six winter months,whilst at Pella, farthest from the sea, only 37% falls during winter.There is little surface run-off, and lack of water for human andstock consumption is a major problem. Storage dams are of little useandmost supplies are obtained from springs and boreholes. As can beexpected from the meagre rainfall, the vegetation is sparse and stunted.Butitdoes contain an immense variety of succulents and flowering plants,including the famed Namaqua daisies and other species which makea short but spectacularappearance early in spring after good •winter rains have fallen.In profusion and luxuriance of colouring these are probably unsurpassedanywhere in the world. It is believed that the first giraffe seenby Whites in South Africa were a pair observed by Pieter van Meerhoffin1661 at Meerhoffskasteel, about 10 km west of Nuwerus. For many yearsaccess to South-West Africa across the Orange River was by meansofpontoons at Goodhouse and Vioolsdrif, but a modern high-level double-lanebridge,the D. F. Malan Bridge, has been built at Vioolsdrif. Namaqualandis the home of a large number of Coloured people, many of whom areaccommodatedin five reserves: Concordia, Komag-gas, Leliefontein, Richtersveldand Steinkopf.

In spite of its aridity the region is well suited to sheep, especiallynon-woolled types, such as the Karakul, and goats. This is due to thewealth of succulent plants, many of which are very nutritious and areable to survive for long periods without rain. The stocking rate is lowand farms are extensive, so that nine-tenths of the district consistsof farms, which far exceed 3000 ha, in size. In the early days Namaqualandwas the home of the nomadic Trek Boer, who moved from place to placewherever good grazing was to be found. Farming has now become more stabilised,with the district carrying nearly half a million sheep.

Agriculture is successful only where irrigation is available; but asthere is practically no local surface run-off, the only source of wateris the Orange River. The topography is unfavourable and there is onlyone fairly large irrigation scheme, that at Vioolsdrif, while a numberof pumping installations are privately owned. Lucerne, wheat, citrusand other fruits grow very well and in a few places, such as Pella andHenkries, dates are successfully cultivated. Where there is enough winterrainfall wheat is grown, and up to 66 000 bags are harvested in goodyears. Along the coast, at Hondeklip Bay and Port Nolloth, rock-lobsterfishing is important.

When the settlement was founded at the Cape the officials there soonlearnt of the existence of copper, somewhere to the north, from Namaswho brought objects made of that metal. On an expedition in search ofthe metal in 1685, Simon van der Stel discovered the 'Copper Mountain'at Springbok, but transport and other difficulties prevented exploitation.About 1852 Sir James Alexander made an unsuccessful attempt to work thedeposits at Kodas and Numees, close to the Orange River. Tremendous speculativeactivity followed when the mines at Springbok were opened. This lastedonly about ten years when richer deposits at Okiep, about 8 km, and atNababeep, about 20 km north of Springbok, were developed. Transport presentedgreat difficulties and in 1876 the copper-mining interests built a 2-ft-gaugerailway from Okiep to Port Nolloth, a distance of 175 km. Traction wasinitially by mules. (See Namaqualand mule train.) This line was liftedin 1944. In 1925 the railway from Cape Town was extended to Bitterfontein,180 km south of Springbok, and most transport is now done by motor trucksto the rail-head. Important villages on the main road between Bitterfonteinand Springbok are Caries and Kamieskroon. On the property of the O'okiepCopper Company there are the remains of excavations made by Simon vander Stel's expedition. These, with some prehistoric rock engravings,have been fenced in and proclaimed a historical monument.

In 1926 alluvial diamonds were discovered along the coast from the mouthof the Orange River southwards. The focal point of this industry is atthe State workings at Alexander Bay in the Richtersveld, the most aridpart of the district, where the rainfall is only 50 mm a year. So richare the deposits that in 1928 gems to the value of nearly ^I2|- millionwere recovered. Other workings are at Kleinsee (at the mouth of the BuffaloRiver) and at Wolf berg. In addition to copper and diamonds, a numberof valuable minerals such as sillimanite, beryl, spodumene, feldspar,mica and tungsten are mined in the district.

Population (1970). -Whiten 155; Coloured 39 313; Asiatic 5; Bantu 4845.The three main groups showed substantial increases from 1951. The overalldensity is I person per sq km.

d. f. kokot

bibl. A. Dreyer: Kerksoetvenier van Namakwaland, geskied-kundige oorsigvan die So-jarige (1850-1930) bestaan van die plaaslike N.G. gemeente(1930); T. N. Hanekom: Die gemeente Namakwaland, 'n eeufees-gedenkboek1850-1950 (1950); W. G. A. Mears: Wesleyan missionaries in Great Namaqualand,1820-1867 (1970).

References

  • Prepared by Franco Frescura.