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Historic Hartbeespoort Dam - the battle against water pollution

Updated on October 11, 2012

The farm under the dam

In a valley of the historic Magaliesberg Mountains of the North West Province of South Africa is the beautiful Hartebeespoort Dam.

This dam was built in the 1920s, although it had been thought about since the 1890s. It was built on a farm belonging to a General Hendrick Schoeman, one of the Boer generals who fought against the British in the Anglo Boer War of 1899 to 1902. Schoeman was not highly regarded as a soldier and had the reputation of being a 'hands-upper', one who was too quick to surrender to the British forces. Schoeman surrendered two days after the fall of Pretoria to British General John French, and was subsequently arrested as a traitor by his fellow Boers. His farm now lies beneath the waters of the dam which carries the name of the farm.

The farm was called after the antelope species known as the Red Hartebeest which was common in the area, and the "poort" or pass of the Crocodile River, one of the rivers which now flow into the dam.


Looking across the dam towards the village of Kosmos
Looking across the dam towards the village of Kosmos
Reflections of the village of Kosmos
Reflections of the village of Kosmos

The ancient mountain range

The Magaliesberg Mountain range is one of the oldest in the world, dating back to the Archaean Basement Complex, which is some 3 billion years old. The range is composed of what is known as the Bushveld Igneous Complex and is very good for rock climbing.

The dam itself has a circumference when full of about 56 kilometres and holds some 205 million cubic metres of water. The water is now heavily polluted with phosphates brought into the dam by the Crocodile River at a rate of about 166000 kilograms per year causing what is termed eutrophication, which is a massive increase in the chemical nutrients in the water. Eutrophication results in the growth of massive algal blooms or phytoplankton which remove the oxygen from the water causing the fish and other life in the water to suffer. The algae are also toxic to humans. Another result of the eutrophication is the growth of weeds, in this case water hyacynth which clog the irrigation systems fed by the dam.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The "Triumphal Arch" on the dam wallA look from the dam wall towards the barrier holding water hyacynth back from the sluice gatesThe base of one of the lamp poles on the dam wall
The "Triumphal Arch" on the dam wall
The "Triumphal Arch" on the dam wall
A look from the dam wall towards the barrier holding water hyacynth back from the sluice gates
A look from the dam wall towards the barrier holding water hyacynth back from the sluice gates
The base of one of the lamp poles on the dam wall
The base of one of the lamp poles on the dam wall

The Dam Remediation Project

The South African Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) has initiated a Hartbeespoort Dam Remediation Project called Harties - Metsi a Me (Harties - my water) to turn the situation of the dam around and bring it back to optimal condition.

Around the dam has grown a tourist industry and there are many place of interest, including the Maropeng Visitors Centre in the famed Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site which includes the famous Sterkfontein Caves, where the famous "Mrs Ples" and "Little Foot" Australopithecus hominid fossils almost 3 million years old were found.

The sluicegates and spillway. The congestion of water hyacynth can be seen at the top of the spillway
The sluicegates and spillway. The congestion of water hyacynth can be seen at the top of the spillway
A closer view of a sluicegate
A closer view of a sluicegate

Modern lifestyles threaten the future

Looking at the Magaliesberg Mountains around the dam it is easy to fantasise about early humans roaming in the valleys and over the ridges. There is a sense of the age of the earth and of the long history that we as humans have covered to arrive where we are today.

However, as the spokesperson for the Remediation Project, Petrus Venter, has written: "I believe the dam's sickness is a symptom of modern lifestyles and consumers need to assess their respective lifestyles if natural resources are to survive for the next 50 years."

A sobering thought indeed, which puts a perspective on how wasteful we humans are - that a 3 million year story is faced with a 50 year deadline.

Tan' Malie se Winkel
Tan' Malie se Winkel
Catherine and Caitlin in front of the store
Catherine and Caitlin in front of the store

Tan' Malie se Winkel

My family and I are visiting Hartbeespoort Dam and we went to an old trading store close to the dam wall called "Tan' Malie se Winkel" (Aunty Malie's Shop), which was started in 1921, when the dam was still under construction.

The store is a wonderful and idiosyncratic place, with vintage artefacts on display, a small zoo, and a restaurant where traditional Afrikaner foods are served. It is a weird conglomeration of beautiful old stuff and truly kitsch tourist trap trinkets.

The shop also sells homemade jams, honey and is known for its traditional bread, which one has to order in advance. It is no longer baked in the old oven in the yard, but is good, wholesome fare none the less.

I have not been able to get any information about the store yet but will continue to try to find out more about its story.

A gallery of photos from Tan' Malie se Winkel

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Caitlin in front of the old oven in the yardColourful bottles in a windowMore colourful bottlesHome made jamsAn old "Kap kar"The famous bread!
Caitlin in front of the old oven in the yard
Caitlin in front of the old oven in the yard
Colourful bottles in a window
Colourful bottles in a window
More colourful bottles
More colourful bottles
Home made jams
Home made jams
An old "Kap kar"
An old "Kap kar"
The famous bread!
The famous bread!

Copyright notice

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2011

Comments

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    • tonymac04 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony McGregor 

      7 years ago from South Africa

      Anton - thanks for your kind comment.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • AntonDiq profile image

      AntonDiq 

      7 years ago from Gauteng, South Africa

      Hey Tony, thanks for opening up some eyes. Well written...

    • tonymac04 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Micky my brother! Thanks so much for your kind words. Blessings and joy to you too, my friend.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      8 years ago

      Beautiful hub again Tony BrotherMan! And that daughter is so beautiful! Bless you Tony and you family!

    • profile image

      water damage restoration 

      8 years ago

      The sluicegate image looks really "green". I hate that we see such things everywhere in the world. Nice story though !

    • SXP profile image

      SXP 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      I love this area, but it just so busy all the time. It's a pity that it is so poluted and I hear that anglers never eat fosh from the dam anymore. Still, we go there once a year, just to browse the stalls and have a good day out.

    • profile image

      ESAHS 

      9 years ago

      "Great super hub with great ideas!"

      "Two thumbs up!"

      CEO E.S.A.H.S. Association

    • shamelabboush profile image

      shamelabboush 

      9 years ago

      A very nice place!!! Wish I were there... Thanks

    • Frieda Babbley profile image

      Frieda Babbley 

      9 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      Fascinating story and wonderful pics. I'd love to see this place. That shop looks delightful -- I think I can smell the bread, and it is a beautiful bread =). So terribly sad that we could do such damage to things that have been there for billions of years. Wonderful piece, Tony.

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 

      9 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Mixture of a delightful place and a disaster well on its way to happening. I would love to check out your country one day.

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