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The Vaal River (pronounced /ˈfɑːl/ and alternatively /ˈvɑːl/, especially by English speakers) is the largest tributary of the Orange River in South Africa. The river has its source near Breyten in Mpumalanga province, east of Johannesburg and about 30 kilometres (19 mi) north of Ermelo and only about 240 kilometres (150 mi) from the Indian Ocean.[1] It then flows westwards to its conjunction with the Orange River southwest of Kimberley in the Northern Cape. It is 1,120 kilometres (700 mi) long, and forms the border between Mpumalanga, Gauteng and North West Province on its north bank, and the Free State on its south.

The Vaal River seen from the N3 national freeway, upstream from the Vaal Dam. Here it forms the border between the Mpumalanga and Free State provinces.
Country South Africa
Regions Free State, Gauteng, Northern Cape, Mpumalanga
 - left Vet River
Landmarks Vredefort crater, Vaal Dam
 - location Near Breyten
Mouth Orange River
 - location Near Douglas
 - elevation 1,241 m (4,072 ft)
 - coordinates 29°4′15″S 23°38′10″E / 29.07083°S 23.63611°E / -29.07083; 23.63611Coordinates: 29°4′15″S 23°38′10″E / 29.07083°S 23.63611°E / -29.07083; 23.63611
Length 1,120 km (696 mi)
Basin 196,438 km2 (75,845 sq mi)
Discharge for Orange River
 - average 125 m3/s (4,414 cu ft/s)
Location of the Vaal River mouth



Importance to industry and agricultureEdit

Water is drawn from the Vaal to meet the industrial needs of the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Area and a large part of the Free State. In 1881 the Kimberley Waterworks Company, provided water from the Vaal to the Cape Diamond Fields at a cost of one shilling per 100 imperial gallons (450 l; 120 US gal).[5][6]

As a part of the Vaal-Hartz Scheme it is a major source of water for irrigation. Water drawn from the Vaal supports 12 million consumers in Gauteng and surrounding areas.[7]


Pont (ferry) on the Vaal River

Excavations within the valley of the river have located pebble tools.[8]

Historically, the river formed the northern border of Moshoeshoe I's Basotho kingdom at its height[citation needed] in the mid-19th century, then became the boundary between two Boer republics: The South African Republic (later the Transvaal province) and the Orange Free State. The geographic name "Transvaal" comes from the name of this river, meaning "beyond the Vaal river". This was in respect to the Cape Colony and Natal, which were the main areas of European settlement at the time, and which lay south of the Vaal.


Vaal is a Dutch name (later Afrikaans), translated by the Griquas or Boers[9] from an earlier Kora Khoikhoi name Tky-Gariep (/hei !garib, drab river).[10] Both Vaal and Tky mean "drab" or "dull", which alludes to the colour of the waters, especially noticeable during flood season when the river carries a lot of silt. In the upper reaches the river was named Likwa (Sindebele), Ikwa (isiZulu), ilikwa (siSwati), lekwa (Sesotho), or cuoa by the Khoikhoi, all referring to the plain it traverses.[10]

Basin ecologyEdit

According to Hogan the headwaters portion of the basin supports high endemism in reptiles, and lower in the watershed are elevated levels of endemism for small mammals.[11]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Times Comprehensive Atlas, 12th ed. Times Books, London, 2007
  2. ^ Upper Vaal WMA 8
  3. ^ Middle Vaal WMA 9
  4. ^ Lower Vaal WMA 10
  5. ^ "The Kimberley Waterworks". The Cornishman (155). 30 June 1881. p. 6. 
  6. ^ "The Kimberley Waterworks". The Cornishman (156). 7 July 1881. p. 4. 
  7. ^ State of the Environment of South Africa (SOESA), Annual National State of the Environment Report
  8. ^ Langer, William L., ed. (1972). An Encyclopedia of World History (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 9. ISBN 0-395-13592-3. 
  9. ^ Thompson, G. (1827). Travels and Adventures in Southern Africa I. Henry Colburn,London. p. 74. 
  10. ^ a b du Plessis, E.J. (1973). Suid-Afrikaanse berg- en riviername. Tafelberg-uitgewers,Cape Town. pp. 326, 221. ISBN 0-624-00273-X. 
  11. ^ C. Michael Hogan. 2013. Vaal River. ed. P. Saundry. Encyclopedia of Earth. National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington DC

External linksEdit