Historic Hartbeespoort Dam - the battle against water pollution
The farm under the 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.
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.
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.
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
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 WinkelClick thumbnail to view full-size
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
- Harties Website
The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) is implementing the Hartbeespoort Dam Integrated Biological Remediation Programme, referred to as Harties, Metsi a me - My water.
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Hartbeespoort Dam online news on Brits, Hartbeespoort and surrounding areas.