Between drought and deluge : a history of water provision to Beaufort West, ca. 1858-1955

Visser, Wessel (2020)

CITATION: Visser, W. 2020. Between drought and deluge : a history of water provision to Beaufort West, ca. 1858-1955. New Contree, 85:1-21.

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Beaufort West was the first rural town in South Africa to receive municipal status as early as 1837. Situated in the arid interior of the country, the town has struggled with water provision and sufficient water supplies since its inception to the present day. In addition, the town is flanked by two rivers, which, in times of high rainfall or cloudbursts in the catchment areas, have caused severe flood damage since earliest times. Therefore, throughout its history Beaufort West has been trapped periodically between drought and deluge. The municipal council was challenged in its efforts to provide water to the needs of its growing population. Two outstanding events in this regard were the extension of the colonial railways to the town in 1880 and the outbreak of the South African War in 1899. In this article the quest for water to Beaufort West’s inhabitants is investigated since ca. 1858 until the completion of the Gamka Dam (1955) in the Nieuweveld Mountains some kilometres from Beaufort West. Besides the extraction of potable water from springs, weirs, boreholes, water mains, dams and reservoirs, the paper also highlights state involvement and the collision of national with local interests in the water procurement process. Although the centenary publication of WGH Vivier and S Vivier in 1969 on Beaufort West highlighted some aspects of the town’s water infrastructure developments, this study focuses in more detail on its water vulnerability especially in time of drought and the constant search for adequate alternative water sources.

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