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THE WORLD’S OLDEST RIVER

As for the Vaal, the river in my backyard, it is not your everyday industrial ditch but a watercourse with a long pedigree and much remaining beauty.  Probably one of the world’s oldest rivers (though nowhere near as old as the crater), it was born when Karoo sediments covered the crater.  Meandering across flattish plains, the Vaal matured with the typical horseshoe bends formed by water that is not going anywhere fast.  As time went on those bends cut downwards into the ancient crater beneath. The Vaal became young again, steeper and faster flowing.  It followed what is now known as Goose Canyon past the modern-day resort of Smilin `Thru, and neared the crater core at Parys.  Then it turned back through the narrows called Kommandonek, finally talking its departure towards Klerksdorp.  The Vaal and Bergland is a playground for white water rafters, hikers, mountain bikers, fly fishermen, horse-riders and even golfers (there are two golf courses on the island).  For anyone visiting the island today, signs that it is becoming a tourist draw card are apparent in the rush of coffee bars, art studios, antique shops and B&Bs in and around Parys.  But knowledge of what the Dome is and what it can tell us about the cosmological past, our place in the stars and the wonders of our own immediate environment has barely begun to reach a broader public.  

 THE FLOW OF THE VAAL RIVER

The Vredefort Mountain Land is cut by a series of deep valleys, sometimes forming narrow and very deep gorges (kloof), and the Vaal River, one of the premier rivers of South Africa, follows one of these on its north-south course and again, leaving the structure, in a north-westerly direction. In the Parys area, the landscape is much less rugged and, consequently, the river has a wider and shallower bed, flowing around a large number of islands of variable size (Groot Eiland – Afrikaans for ‘large island’ – is a kilometre wide). Quite a number of holiday resorts and conference centres are located along the banks of the Vaal River in the vicinity of the popular resort town of Parys.

 
   Further downstream, the river follows a northwesterly course again, and the small rapids here make river rafting a pleasure. At a place called Kommandonek (a very prominent outcrop of quartzite, which in war times was a good defensive and observation site), the Vaal re-enters the Vredefort Mountain Land, first flowing across rapids through a rather narrow valley, and then broadening and flowing more peacefully toward the historical hamlet of Venterskroon. The river follows this valley towards the southwest, trending along the curvature of the mountain land, before a further fault across the outer collar allows it to leave the dome and assume a more western course towards Klerksdorp and the western country (formerly known as the Western Transvaal, mow part of North West Province).

ISLANDS IN THE VAAL RIVER
THE SOLUTION OF A BOUNDARY DISPUTE

In the history of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, boundary questions played an important part. One of these was the problem of the islands in the Vaal River. Numerous islands occur over a distance of several hundred kilometres from Lindeque’s Drift down stream as far a Christiana. Dense networks of islands occur in three places, namely, Parys, Dood’s Drift and Christiana. The biggest island, with an area of about 180 acres is Groot Eiland, which is situated just below Parys. A variety of wild trees grow on the islands, and many farmers ploughed the islands to grow crops or used them for grazing.

In 1883 some Transvaal farmers sent a petition with farms opposite Parys to the Transvaal Volksraad, complaining that squatters who were causing great damage to the owners of these farms were occupying certain islands in the Vaal River from time to time. Not only did they rob the farmers of stock, but they also kept diseased animals, which became a threat to the neighbourhood. White refugees also used the islands as hiding-places to escape Commando service/ No legal steps could be taken as the islands were generally regarded as neutral ground over which nether republican government had control. The memorialists requested that a joint Commission should be appointed by both Governments to inspect these islands, divide them and, if necessary, to lease them.

The opinion which the Transvaal State Attorney, Carl Ueckermann, gave to President Paul Kruger was: “Islands in running waters, according to Roman-Dutch Law, belong to the owners of the ground to which they are nearest …” The State Attorney of the Orange Free State, C.J. Vels, disagreed by stating that where a river forms a boundary between two states, the middle of the river constitutes the boundary. He added that farmers of both states were ploughing on the same island opposite Vredefort. President Brand also consulted his Surveyor General, J.C. Fleck, who reported that he had surveyed all the farms along the Vaal River to the middle of the river.

 
 

Both Governments appointed Island Commissions with one member of each Commission being a surveyor. The instructions to the Commissions were:
• To determine the main stream of the river.
• To allot any island to the State from which it was not separated by the main stream.
• In cases where two branches of the river occur of equal strength, the islands had to be allotted to either State on an equitable basis.

The Commissions met for the first time on the 8th November 1887 at Parys. Their first task was to fix the meaning of the words “main stream”. According to the rule of the Waterworks’ Engineers, the main stream of a river is the branch through which in a certain time (for instance, one minute) with half full banks, the largest quantity of water passes. This is derived from the breath of the stream, the depth and velocity of the water. The water line of the main stream is a curved line in the river, and it is easy after fixing this line, called by experts “Thalweg” (the greatest line of depression) is the natural boundary between both states of these places where islands occur; but this line also exists where there are no islands. Here the Commission recommended that the middle line between the two banks should be taken as the line of jurisdiction.

 
 

Starting at Lindeque’s Drift on the 9th November, the two Commissions proceeded to determine the main stream and to allot the islands. A speedy completion of the works was necessary in view of the impending floods. Both surveyors, therefore, made their sketches independently and compared them. Where the islands lay close together the Commission recommended that proper surveys should be made. This was later done at Christiana and Parys. The large islands at and below Parys were the cause of some disputes between the Commissions. Fortunately agreement was reached and later the division of the islands along the lower portion of the river proceeded rapidly. According to the division agreed upon by the Commissions, the South African Republic was allotted 101 islands with an area of 435 acres an the Free State received 94 islands with an area of 311 acres.

The Vaal River Island Treaty was signed by President Paul Kruger on the 12th March 1895 and by Acting President Blignaut of the Orange Free State on the 22nd April 1895. In the treaty it was agreed that the two banks of the Vaal River would be the boundary, except at Parys and Christiana where the boundary would be as indicated on the maps attached to the treaty. The Assemblies of both States ratified the Treaty soon after it was signed by the State Presidents. 

 
 For more information contact Parys Info Office at: 056 811 4000 – E-mail: info@parys.co.za

 

 

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