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ORANGE RIVER FLOODS PART TWO

Farms and lodges along the lower Orange River brace for further wipeouts as floodwaters rise

Farms and lodges along the lower Orange River brace for further wipeouts as floodwaters rise
The Orange River in full flood passing underneath the N10 bridges at Upington on Saturday night, 25 February 2023. (Photo: David Harrison)

The areas along the Orange River in the Northern Cape municipalities of Dawid Kruiper and Kai !Garib have seen four floods in 15 months. Now, farms and lodges are preparing for another disaster as water levels rise towards a 10-year high.

The flooding around the lower Orange River in the Northern Cape is expected to reach a peak in the first days of March. Rising water levels have impacted riverside farms and lodges in the Dawid Kruiper and Kai !Garib municipalities, some of which were still recovering from a flood earlier in the year.

For Gerrit Nieuwoudt of Besters Eiland Boerdery, a farm on the outskirts of the town of Keimoes in the Kai !Garib Local Municipality, this flood is the latest in a series of setbacks for his operation.

orange river flood

Gerrit Meyer watches the swollen Orange River rage past his property on Besters Eiland on Friday, February 25 2023. (Photo: David Harrison)

“The beginning of last year, we had three floods. I lost nearly the whole harvest of grapes because I couldn’t get it out, and the people that must harvest it can’t get in,” he told Maverick Citizen.

“[The floods] have become more frequent… not even more frequent, but it gets out of hand every time. That didn’t happen before. They [used to] control it so that it gets [to] high water, but not a flood.”

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Nieuwoudt’s home becomes all but inaccessible when the waters rise. With the bridges submerged, the only way to reach his property is via two hanging footbridges. These allow him to fetch personal supplies, but they can’t be used to transport produce.

“The harvest is finished… but the grapes are still here – we can’t get them out,” he said. “Financially, it’s a huge impact… The dates begin to ripen in about two weeks. We must pick them. They can’t sit and wait for the day you can get to it, it spoils… I send fresh produce, so you can’t dry it.”

orange river flood

Flooded vineyards outside Keimoes in the Northern Cape on Sunday, 26 February 2023. (Photo: David Harrison)

The frequent floods have repeatedly wiped out a block of grapes that Nieuwoudt planted on his farm. 

“That cost me R100,000 per hectare. I have four hectares that I [planted] three times, one after another, and now it is gone again,” he said.

“My whole set-up, it’s too small to cover that once, let alone three times.”

Many farmers in the area were affected by the flooding, he said. While the grape harvest for the current season was over, rising waters could affect the stalks for next year’s crop.

“It’s affecting the… next five years. And then the money you have made in the past, you must use that to plant this thing over. So that is 10 years before you can cover your own expenses,” he said.

“The shops in town, they feel it because the farmer doesn’t have money. The farmworker doesn’t have money [because they] lay him off… A lot of shops closed the past four years in Keimoes because there is no money.”

The Presidency announced that a national state of disaster had been declared in response to widespread flooding across the country on 13 February. The decision was intended to enable an “intensive, coordinated response” to the impact of floods in the Northern Cape and six other provinces – Mpumalanga, the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, and North West province. “These conditions have been brought on by the La Niña global weather phenomenon which occurs in the Pacific Ocean but impacts on a country like South Africa with above-normal rainfall,” stated the Presidency. “Forecasts indicate this weather pattern will remain in this state during the early part of 2023.”

See Part One here Riverside Northern Cape residents face uncertainty and hunger as floodwaters rise

Precautionary measures

The flooding in the lower Orange and Vaal river systems is largely a result of the high volumes of water that were released from the Vaal Dam on the border between Gauteng and the Free State, and the Bloemhof Dam on the border between North West province and the Free State.

Heavy rains in most parts of the country caused the dams to fill to capacity, forcing the Department of Water and Sanitation to implement dam safety protocols.

The Kai !Garib Local Municipality sent out flood warnings to all those living within the floodline while the ZF Mgcawu District Municipality has contingency plans in place for evacuations and medical emergencies.

orange river floods

Bakkies cross a bridge on Kanoneiland near Upington in the Northern Cape on Saturday morning before it was closed to traffic due to the flooding of the Orange River, 25 February 2023. (Photo: David Harrison)

orange river flood

A crossing bridge just before it was closed due to the rising Orange River flood water on Kanoneiland near Upington in the Northern Cape on Saturday morning, 25 February 2023. (Photo: David Harrison)

Local residents expect the water levels to reach their highest point since 2011. On 25 February, farmers from Kanoneiland – the largest island on the Orange River, about 35 minutes from Upington – closed the Eendrag Bridge, one of two bridges connecting the island, due to the flood risk.

This was the first time the bridge had been closed since the floods in 2011, said Elmar Burger, a farmer on Kanoneiland. On the side of the bridge, leading away from the island, an excavator broke down the dirt wall protecting the crossing from the river. 

Orange river floods

Local farmers organised a digger to break down a dyke holding back the flooding Orange River at a crossing bridge to try to reduce the potential damage the fast-moving water would have on the main structure on Kanoneiland near Upington in the Northern Cape early on Saturday morning, 25 February 2023. (Photo: David Harrison)

“We want to open the bridge now… take the wall away, because it is blocking the water to the sides and putting pressure on the walls,” explained Burger. “We want to take the stream down the middle of the river.”

Farm operations

The closure would affect the operations of the raisin-producing farmers on Kanoneiland, he said, as most farmers used areas on the other side of the bridge to dry their crops. Without that crossing, they were forced to drive about 60km as opposed to the usual 6km.

“Luckily, most of the guys are finished harvesting, but we’ve got a lot of raisins still on the outside… so we must now drive through Upington to get to our drying areas,” he said. 

“It’s a big difference, timewise. And you must also pay the workers while they’re on that trip on your trucks or bakkies.”

André Oberholzer, another Kanoneiland farmer, said local farmers did what needed to be done to manage the floods in the area.

orange river flood

Andre Oberholzer and other farmers organised a digger to break down a dyke on a crossing bridge holding back the flooding Orange River to prevent the incredibly strong current from damaging the main bridge structure on Kanoneiland near Upington in the Northern Cape on Saturday morning, February 25 2023. (Photo: David Harrison)

orange river flood

Local farmers are seen watching as a digger breaks down a dyke on a crossing bridge holding back the flooding Orange River to prevent the strong current from damaging the main bridge structure on Kanoneiland near Upington in the Northern Cape on Saturday morning, 25 February 2023. (Photo: David Harrison)

orange river flood

Sagaria Pretorius drives a tractor digger to move dirt to block access to a crossing bridge over the flooding Orange River on Kanoneiland near Upington in the Northern Cape on Saturday morning, 25 February 2023. (Photo: David Harrison)

“We try to look after ourselves,” he said. “When something like this happens, everybody is clubbing together and helping. We’ve got a good community… good at working together.”

It is difficult to determine the severity of the flood’s impact on local agriculture at this stage, as water levels have not yet reached their peak, according to Dirk Krapohl, CEO of Agri Northern Cape. 

“In some areas we have huge challenges regarding Eskom and the flooding, because the farmers have to pump the water out of the river, and we can’t pump if we don’t have electricity,” he said. 

“Our maize and wheat are enormously under pressure due to the effect of load shedding and the high levels of the water.”

Riverside lodges

orange river flood

Africa River Lodge owner Mariana Uys watches the Orange River floodwater levels rise from a wooden deck along with her staff, Bonita Harmse and Anna Bout on Friday morning, 24 February 2023. (Photo: David Harrison)

orange river flood

Ikaia River Lodge near Keimoes in the Northern Cape on Friday, 24 2023. With rising flood waters predicted to reach a peak this week, the restaurant seen in the photo had already been sandbagged to try to prevent as much damage to the property as possible. (Photo: David Harrison)

At the African Vineyard Boutique Hotel and Spa on Kanoneiland, water has inundated a clearing where outdoor events and spa sessions are usually held. The area has been submerged before, most recently in November 2022, according to Elmarie de Bruin, owner of the hotel.

Despite the challenges caused by the floods, De Bruin has a positive outlook, saying the increased water flow at Augrabies Falls – a waterfall on the Orange River about 90 minutes from Upington – will attract more tourists to the area.

“We turn this into an experience. You have to look at the positive side,” she said. 

orange river flood

The flooded outdoor spa area of African Vineyard Boutique Hotel and Spa on Kanoneiland near Upington in the Northern Cape, where a wedding had been scheduled for the weekend of Friday, 24 February 2023. (Photo: David Harrison)

orange river flood

A submerged electricity hookup box in the camping area of the Oranjerus Resort on Kanoneiland near Upington in the Northern Cape. The owners of the riverside resort had already evacuated ahead of rising Orange River flood waters, Friday, 24 February 2023. (Photo: David Harrison)

The latest flood is the fourth that local communities have faced in 14 months, according to Nico Visser, owner of Ikaia River Lodge. The lodge lies just outside Keimoes. By Friday last week, staff had already packed sandbags along the walls of the lower building to prevent water getting in.

“I’ve got a caravan park about two metres underwater now. We have not been able to accommodate campers for that whole 15 months,” said Visser.

Nicole Nieuwoudt, co-owner of the lodge, told Maverick Citizen that they replaced the electrical points and grass in the caravan park after a previous flood, only for the area to be flooded again.

“We are luckier because [most of] the buildings are above the floodline… we haven’t had it too bad,” she said. 

“One of our staff members, she can’t come to work now because some of the bridges at the lower communities are flooded… She needs to put in leave.

“Some people don’t offer their staff any leave [or] they’ll offer them unpaid leave. That impacts them even more, I would say, because then they cannot even get money.” DM/MC

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Is there no way to drain far more water from Gariep to the water-crisis in ECape via the Orange-Fish Tunnel and from exit to elsewhere? That tunnel can carry 80 million liters of water. Per hour!

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