Longest Rivers In South Africa

The Orange River passes through an arid gorge in Northern Cape Province near South Africa's borders with Namibia and Botswana.
The Orange River passes through an arid gorge in Northern Cape Province near South Africa's borders with Namibia and Botswana.

South Africa is home to some of the most beautiful and longest rivers on the African continent. These rivers are important part of the country’s ecosystem. Most of the farms and industries depend on rivers as a source of water for irrigation and industrial processes. The rivers are also rich sources of nutrients for most of the farms along the river banks and the coastal zones. Rivers also promote transportation and sports including canoeing and rafting. Some of the longest rivers in South Africa are looked at below.

Orange River

The Orange River is South Africa’s longest river. It originates from the Drakensberg in neighboring Lesotho where it is also known as the Senqu River and flows into Atlantic Ocean through South Africa. Orange River forms part of the international boundary line between Namibia and South Africa and between Lesotho and South Africa. The river covers 1,365 miles from its source to the Atlantic Ocean. The earliest inhabitants called the river Gariep while the Dutch named it Groote Rivier. However, in 1779 it was named Orange River by Colonel Robert Gordon in honor of William V of Orange. The Orange River supports agriculture, mining, and industry through the creation of the Orange River Project. The fist diamond in South Africa was discovered in the alluvial deposit on the river. Orange is also famous for canoeing and rafting, and a major source of hydroelectric power at the Gariep and Vanderkloof Dams.

Limpopo River

The Limpopo River is approximately 1,087 miles long and rises in the central regions of southern Africa, and from there flows eastward towards the Indian Ocean. It has a drainage basin of 415,000 square kilometers and a mean discharge of 170 square meters per second at its mouth. The river is the second largest in Africa draining into the Indian Ocean after Zambezi River. Limpopo River serves as a borderline separating South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. The river begins from the point where its two tributaries, Crocodile and Marico Rivers, join while Notwane River is its major tributary in Botswana. The Limpopo River supports the estimated 14 million people that live in its basin. There are also a lot of mining activities going on in the Limpopo Basin with over 1,500 mines and 1,700 abandoned mines. However, flooding has caused damages and loss of life.

Vaal River

The Vaal River is the Orange River’s largest tributary, and the third longest river in South Africa. Its source is at Breyten in Mpumalanga Province. The 696-mile long river joins the Orange River at the Northern Cape. Its tributaries include Mooi River, Vet River, Vals River, and Vet River. The name of the river translates to “dull” in Dutch because it carries a lot of silt during the flooding season. Vaal River is an important source of water for industrial use in the Free State and the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Area. It is also a major source of water for irrigation in the Vaal-Hartz Scheme.

Multinationally Shared Rivers

South Africa shares five of its major rivers with neighboring countries. Apart from Limpopo and Orange River, South Africa also shares Molopo and Nossob rivers with Botswana and Namibia and Olifants River with Mozambique. Both the South African Authorities and the Authorities in the neighboring have the responsibility of conserving and protecting the rivers. In some instances, packs and agreements have been signed with regards to the use of these rivers.

Longest Rivers In South Africa

RankLongest Rivers in South AfricaTotal Length
1Orange1,367 miles (shared with Lesotho and Namibia)
2Limpopo1,087 miles (shared with Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Botswana)
3Vaal696 miles
4Molopo597 miles (shared with Botswana and Namibia)
5Nossob460 miles (shared with Botswana and Namibia)
6Great Fish430 miles
7Gamtoos401 miles
8Olifants348 miles (shared with Mozambique)
9Great Kei323 miles
10Tugela312 miles

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