Latest News! 7th October, 2021

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Gariep Dam Gariep Dam - Photo: MPSA

The week that was....

* N1 - the most dangerous road in South Africa

* !Gariep Dam 

* The Bain Legacy (Part 2)

* Podcast

* Pass of the week

N1 - A dangerous road

Having just returned from a return trip by car from Cape Town to Jhb, I thought a little introspection was needed as to what makes this road statistically so dangerous. Having spent 24 hours solid driving in harsh cross-winds in a Suzuki Jimny, between fighting to keep the little 4x4 upright, I had time for some analysis.

The road is generally in a good condition with safety shoulders adding an important margin of safety in avoiding head-on collisions (the main culprit). From Bloemfontein to Johannesburg, most of the N1 is a double laned dual carriageway and presents no serious dangers.

That brings us back to the core of the dangers - very long, straight sections of two way traffic between Colesberg and Laingsburg create boredom and lots of frustration. Most of the trucks (accounting for almost 75% of the traffic) trundle along at 80 kph. This is the biggest factor causing frustration amongst normal cars that tend to travel at the maximum speed limit of 120 kph. Eventually drivers start taking ever greater risks trying to pass the trucks and that's where the wheels literally come off.

The (expensive) solution is to have dedicated truck lanes. There are of course other factors like driver fatigue, unroadworthy vehicles and excessive speed that contribute to the skull and crossbones imagery.

A surprise visit to the !Gariep Dam

A forced business trip up to Jhb by car, allowed me the opportunity to visit the !Gapiep Dam - a destination I have always wanted to visit, but somehow never found the time. What a pleasant surprise! Hidden amongst the flat topped koppies of the Free State is the largest stretch of inland freshwater in South Africa.

As we arrived it looked like a scene from the Greek Islands, with yachts anchored in quiet little bays behind hills with a vast lake stretching away as far as the eye can see. Gariep Dam is actually the official name of the town which sprung up during the construction phase when some 3500 people worked on the construction site. Today it is the newest town in South Africa and is home to about 1800 people. It also plays host to a yacht club and a beautiful campsite and  caravan park.

The Gariep Dam, on its commission in 1971, was originally named the Hendrik Verwoerd Dam after Hendrik Verwoerd, the Prime Minister before and after 31 May 1961, when the country changed from the Union of South Africa to the Republic of South Africa. However, after the end of apartheid, the Verwoerd name was considered unsuitable. The name was officially changed to Gariep Dam on 4 October 1996. 

Gariep is Khoekhoe for "river", the original name of the Orange River

It is in a gorge at the entrance to the Ruigte Valley some 5 kilometres east of Norvalspont. The dam crest is some 1300m above sea level. The wall is 88 m high and has a crest length of 914 m and contains approximately 1.73 million m³ of concrete. The Gariep Dam is the largest storage reservoir in South Africa. In South African English, 'dam' refers both to the structure and the water volume it retains. Gariep Dam has a total storage capacity of approximately 5,340,000 megalitres and a surface area of more than 370 square kilometres when full. The hydro-electrical power station houses four 90 MW generators. The dam if more than 100 km in length. 

Gariep Dam - a natural harbour / Photo: MPSA

Part of the whole design was to provide water to the western parts of the Eastern Cape, which spawned the Orange-Fish Tunnel and the Sundays River Irrigation Scheme.

The structure is a concrete gravity-arch hybrid dam. This design was chosen as the gorge is too wide for a complete arch, so flanking walls form gravity abutments to the central arch. It was built by Dumez, a French construction company.

The concept was first put on the table as far back as 1928 and finally completed in the 1960's. There's a memorial near the wall that commemorates several workers who lost their lives during the construction phase when they became buried under tons of liquid concrete.

The safety system had sirens in place which would be activated at each concrete drop, allowing workers below to get clear of the danger. It proved not be a 100% effective system as some of the workers to this day remain buried under thousands of tons of concrete.

You will find a variety of accommodation in Gariep Dam. The Gariep Dam area is known for its quiet and relaxed atmosphere fresh air and beautiful stars at night. It is a key attraction with tourists all over South Africa and the focus is on water sport and nature. Gariep Dam is the biggest Dam in South Africa and attracts fishing enthusiasts and boat lovers. It is surrounded by nature reserves with wildlife running on open plains.

The known 165 km Gariep Route runs around the dam and it includes a stop at the 80km Oviston tunnel that is one of the longest of its kind in the world, with the 1km long bridges running over the Orange River near Bethulie. The mass graves from the concentration camps had to be exhumed once the dam filled and were moved to higher ground. It's a sobering experience to stand and read all the names of the Boer families that lost their lives at the hands of the British authorities.

The Bain Legacy (Part 2)

On the geological side, Thomas was from time to time engaged in making collections of reptilian remains from the Locustrine beds of the Karoo for the British and Cape Museums, and reporting on the mineral resources and discoveries of minerals in the Colony, such as the Knysna, Prince Albert, Barkly West and Namaqualand Gold Fields, and the Coal Fields of the Eastern Province and the Free State. He also discovered new botanical species, collected other fossils and artefacts, made copies of pre-historic rock art – and played a variety of musical instruments.

A dedicated and extremely conscientious man, he had but one month’s leave in his 46 years in the Public Works Department. The records of his works, his reports to his Chief Inspector, and the near-perfection of the surveys and other maps which he produced bear witness to the excellence of his professional work.

Shortly before his death Thomas undertook a 1,600 kilometre trip, travelling in a small ox cart through the hot and dry interior regions to investigate possible irrigation sites near Upington on the Orange River. This most arduous trip appears to have further undermined his health, which was already suffering from the strain of his work and from worries about the (he considered inappropriate) reorganisation of his Department. He never recovered, and was bed-ridden for the last month of his life, gradually fading away. He was buried in the churchyard of St Thomas’ Anglican Church in Rondebosch. Plaques have been erected in his honour at five different places around the Cape, and his grave stone is housed in the Cultural History Museum in Cape Town.

Swartberg Pass - a Thomas Bain masterpiece

When Thomas and Andrew Bain commenced working for the Central Road Board there were only three engineered mountain passes in the country, one of which Andrew had built.

Andrew was responsible for seven major passes, and Thomas for twenty six. Thomas was responsible for 560 miles of major road construction which included minor passes, as also geological investigations, dams and other water supply works.

It can be said that the Bains, in conjunction with the Colonial Superintendent of Works and Surveyor-General Major Charles Michell, initiated the great age of road-building in the Cape. Thomas Bain especially has made a contribution to road engineering in South Africa which must rank among the greatest made by any engineer.

(Next week Part 3 / Final)


We chat about the !Gariep Dam and the Bain legacy). Click to listen.

Pass of the Week

Lundy's Hill is a major pass located on the tarred R617 trunk route between Howick and Bulwer. It's 21 km long and contains 35 bends, corners and curves, most of which are easy. The altitude variance of 505m converts into an average gradient of 1:41 with the steepest parts measuring in at 1:9. This pass is unkindly referred to a "hill". 

The pass has a classic inverted vertical profile, typical of a pass that descends down to a river and ascends up the other side. The river in question is the Umkomaas River (Mkhomazi). The pass provides access to several rural villages, where the scenery is fabulous, especially during the summer months. 

The pass lies along the foothills of the Drakensberg at an elevation of roughly 1400m ASL and is subject to electrical thunderstorms in summer and possible snowfalls during winter. 

* *   L U N D Y S   H I L L   * *

Trygve Roberts

"Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad"

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