ORANGE RIVER

The Orange River forms the natural border between Namibia and South Africa, and, with a length of 2200km, it is South Africas largest river that constitutes over 14% of all run-off water in that country. Had the entire 973,000 km² catchment area been situated in South Africa alone, it would have constituted an amazing 77% of the entire country. Approximately 366,000 km² (38%), however, is situated outside the country in Lesotho, Botswana and Namibia. The Orange River begins its journey in the catchment area of the Drakensberg mountain range (between Johannesburg and Durban), meanders 2200 kilometers through South Africa from east to west, and eventually empties out into the Atlantic Ocean to form one of the most important wetland areas in Africa at the Orange River mouth. The Khoi Khoi and the San Bushmen were the earliest pre-colonial inhabitants along the river and referred to it as “Gariep”. This River also gave Namibia the pre-colonial name “Groot (great) Gariep”. The word gariep originates from the Khoi name of !gari-b, meaning the “River of the wilderness”, or “great river”. The first colonial name was given to the river as early as 1506, probably by Portuguese mariners, who called it “Vigiti Magna”. The river received its current name, Orange, by Colonel Robert Gordon, commander of the Dutch East India Company garrison at Cape Town, on a trip to the interior in 1779. Gordon named the river in honor of William V of Orange. A popular but incorrect belief is that the river was named after the supposedly orange color of its water, as opposed to the color its tributary, the Vaal River ('vaal' being Afrikaans for pale or grey). During flood, the water does however turn quite Orange when it washes with it the rich iron-oxide particles from the mountainous river banks. Since the end of apartheid, the name "Gariep" has had greater favour in official correspondence in South Africa, although the name "Orange" has greater international recognition. The first indication of the vast mineral wealth of South Africa was the diamond picked up in 1867 by the Jacobs children south of the Orange River, close to where Hopetown stands today. The word soon spread and by 1870 more than 10 000 diggers of all race, creed and nations were busily engaged along the banks of the Vaal River searching for the precious little stones. But the wealth in the river was as nothing compared to the treasure underground. The diamonds found on the farm of the brothers De Beer proved to be the tip of a diamond iceberg that eventually became the Kimberley ‘Big Hole’. To whom did these diamonds belong? The answer at first seemed obvious. The De Beers were Free Staters and the diamond fields, a mere 160 kilometres from Bloemfontein, lay between the rivers that formed the natural boundaries of the Free State. Great Britain and its Cape Colony had no presence and no claim in their own right. British interests therefore concealed themselves behind the somewhat dubious claims of Nicolaas Waterboer, the chief of Griquatown many kilometres away. The charade was fronted by a clever lawyer named David Arnot, himself almost a Griqua.

Augrabies Falls

Augrabies Falls can be reached very easily from Namibia, the falls probably being one of the more known highlights of the Orange River. Its name is derived from the Korana word aukurabis, which means "great water" or "water that thunders." At the granite gorge where the water drops down, the river is broken up into different channels, with islands in between. Water flows in mainly from the upper end of the gorge, but various side-falls occur along the side of the gorge. The main fall plunges down a drop of 122 m. A few cataracts occur in the main fall, especially further up in the river channel. During exceptionally high flood periods (such as in 2010) the total water flow has been greater than that of the Victoria Falls in the Zambezi River. However, when so much water plunges down the gorge, it is impossible to get close, as the side falls and main fall then converge into one massive fall, making any clear view (or any sort of conversation) impossible. The Orange River mouth is located on the Atlantic coast and forms the border with South Africa. As a result of its trans-border position, and the fact that Namibia has also designated its part of the mouth a Ramsar site, processes are underway to declare a jointly-managed transboundary Ramsar site. The wetland plays an important role as one of a limited number of wetlands along the arid Atlantic coastline of southern Africa. The river mouth, mudflats, intrafluvial marshlands, islets near the mouth and adjacent pans provide a sizeable area of sheltered shallow water suitable for concentrations of wetland birds, which use these habitats for breeding purposes or as a stopover on migration routes. The bird population can be as high as 20 000 to 26 000 individuals. Of the 57 wetland species recorded, 14 are listed as either rare or endangered in one or both of the South African and Namibian Red Data Books. At times the area supports more than 1 % of the world population of three species endemic to south-western Africa: the Cape cormorant Phalacrocorax capensis, Damara tern Sterna balaenarum and Hartlaub's gull Larus hartlaubii. On a southern Africa scale the wetland supports more than 1 % of the subcontinental population of blacknecked grebe Podiceps nigricollis, lesser flamingo Phoenicopterus minor, chestnutbanded plover Charadrius pallidus, curlew sandpiper Calidris ferruginea, swift tern Sterna bergii, and Caspian tern Hydroprogne caspia.

Diamonds

Namibia is one of the world’s largest producers of gem quality diamonds, with about 98% of diamonds produced being gem quality. Namibia has the richest marine diamond deposits in the world, with an estimated reserve of over 1.5 billion carats. The considerable potential of these marine deposits has resulted in rapid advances in marine diamond extraction technology to the stage where marine diamonds represents about 56% of Namibia’s total diamond production. This figure is set to grow, as onshore reserves are gradually depleted. The origin of Namibian diamonds: The Orange River forms a geographic dividing-line between the nations of South Africa and Namibia. For the last hundred million years, the Orange has been carrying eroded diamondiferous kimberlitic material from its source on the Kaapvaal Craton, in central South Africa and Botswana. Diamond-bearing material was deposited in river bank gravels and alluvium as it travelled westward towards the Atlantic Ocean. Other diamondiferous material was re-distributed by wind action and the north-moving force of the Benguela current, settling to form alluvial deposits in the desert. Material that completed the journey was deposited in beach terrace sediments, or redistributed by northerly ocean currents, to off-shore marine deposits on the sea floor. These secondary alluvial land and marine deposits are Namibia's only source for diamonds, but the Orange River has left an enormous amount of diamondiferous material in the vast drainage basin stretching 150 miles from Oranjemund to Elizabeth Bay. As the sea-level receded millions of years ago, diamond-bearing sediments were exposed, and eventually covered by blowing sand. Land-based secondary deposits must be excavated from this sedimentary layer that lies beneath a deep layer of surface sand. As the diamond-bearing material exits the Orange River and is dumped into Alexander Bay, it is relocated by the churning effects of the prevailing ocean currents. The heavier diamonds tend to accumulate in low lying depressions, while lighter material is washed further to the north by the Benguela Current. This leads to concentrations of diamonds in specific topographical regions. Due to the amount of stress and weathering that the stones are subjected to during their long voyage westward, imperfect stones tend to fracture and disintegrate while stones that have less imperfections are able to complete the journey intact. For this reason, marine diamond deposits tend to have a higher concentration of gem-grade stones.