Water and the human culture of appropriation: the Vaal River up to 1956

10 January 2011

There is discernable evidence of the human presence having historically appropriated the 1300 kilometer long Vaal River of South Africa as it extends itself from the Drakensberg Plateau into the arid Karoo region. This hard-working tributary of the Orange River, which was instrumental as a supply of water to the Witwatersrand, in the era of the region’s gold mines, has been used by humans in a variety of ways. First it was used as a route of communications, then as a borderline demarcating the territorial spaces of states and colonies. Later it was used for purposes of economic development. In the study the objective is to point towards the manner in which humans have influenced the river and its hinterland, particularly from the nineteenth century, up to the 1950s. The process of appropriation, it is argued, has had a different effect when humans laid claim to the river and its environment for social, economic and political purposes.