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Hartbeespoort Dam - How it started

About Hartbeespoort

Hartbeespoort, situated about 50km northwest of Johannesburg, is snuggled on the slopes of the Magalies Mountain and the banks of Hartbeespoort Dam. The name of the valley means “gateway of the Hartebeest (also known as Kongoni – Scientific name: Alcelaphus buselaphus)”. Hartbeespoort is the collective name of a few smaller towns situated around the Hartbeespoort Dam, including the towns of Meerhof, Ifafi, Melodie, Schoemansville and Kosmos. Schoemansville is named after General Hendrik Schoeman, a Boer General in the Anglo-Boer War, who owned the farm that the Hartbeespoort Dam was built on.

The building of Hartbeespoort Dam

The beginning of construction of the Hartbeespoort Dam Wall

The greatest single event in the history of the area was the building of the Hartbeespoort Dam. The first dam in the valley between the Magalies Mountain and Witwatersrand (south of the Dam) was build by General Hendrik Schoeman in 1898 called Sophia Dam, named after his wife. Unfortunately, the engineer who designed the dam wall made a mistake in his calculations and the dam was washed away in a flood shortly after it was constructed. Johan Schoeman, son of the General, revived the idea to build a dam in the Poort in 1905. The establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910 and the start of the First World War in 1914 delayed the start of the construction of the Dam. In 1920 work eventually started in the Poort. A second natural disaster hampered the construction in March 1921 when floods washed away the cofferdams in the Poort. The government employed a young engineer, F.W. Scott, who redesigned the Dam Wall. Scott reinforced the cofferdams and by 24 May 1921 the Crocodile River was “tamed” and concrete could be poured into the new foundations of the wall on 26 July 1921.

To build the wall 250 000 bags of cement was needed which was supplied by Pretoria Portland Cement.  The cement was transported by train to Brits where it was transferred to ox and mule powered coco pans, which transported it to the Poort. The official opening took place on 23 October 1924. In 1970, 10 metal sluices (“crown sluices”) were placed on top of the original overflow.  Because of this the water level of the Dam increased by 2,44m.  The dam’s volume increased from 160 million cubic metres to 205 million cubic metres.

The beginning of construction of the Hartbeespoort Dam Wall

The so-called “Victory Arch” on the Dam Wall is something exceptional. The arch is a copy of the common Roman victory arches with similarities to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.  The arch symbolises that the struggle for realisation of the dam, and the struggle against poverty was rewarded with victory.  The arch is a repetition of the dam’s arch shape, which repeats the shape of the Union Building, which was completed just before the dam was built.

On the eastern side of the arch an expression out of Varro’s “De re Rustica” (“The Rural Case”) is written in big Roman letters: SINE AQUA ARIDA AC MISERA AGRI CULTURA (Without water agriculture is withered and wretched) The expression on the western side was derived from the Latin Bible, Isaiah 44.3.  It reads: DEDI IN DESERTO AQUAS FLUMINA IN INVIO (For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground.)

Hartbeespoort Dam building

The original name was “Hartebeestpoort”. The “t” in “beest” fell away with the transformation from Dutch to Afrikaans and the “e” in “Harte” had to make way because the name was too long to accommodate the Postal Code system on the 1970’s

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