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The Wilge River – a valuable community asset (Part 3)

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

The Wilge River flowing past Frankfort is more than just a muddy stream of water – it is far more interesting and important than at first glance and contributes in a big way to the economy of not only our region but to the well-being of millions of people of the cities to our north.

Geographically speaking

Its sources are about 50 km northeast of Harrismith, at the border with KwaZulu-Natal. In its upper course the river flows roughly southwestwards from its source, then westwards while bending northwards towards Harrismith, skirting the southern end of the Platberg where there is the confluence with thee Nuwejaarspruit from the left. Further north the Elands River joins its left bank. Then the Meul River and the Cornelis River join its right bank. It continues flowing in a NNW direction, being joined by the Liebenbergsvlei River from the left, while passing near Frankfort and flowing northwestwards until it finally meets the Vaal at the Vaal Dam further downstream.

Image 1: The Wilge River as surveyed in 1887, long before the Vaal.

A conduit for water security and progress

Few people realise that the Wilge is connected to an intricate system of reservoirs, some of which are the largest, in terms of storage capacity in Southern Africa. The Liebenbergsvlei River (just outside of Frankfort) delivers water from the Lesotho Highlands Water Project into the Wilge; to provide and maintain water levels for the Vaal Dam, from where it is extracted for consumption. In times of dire need, water can also be released from the Sterkfontein Dam which is situated at the source of the Wilge River, in the Drakensberg. The level of the Sterkfontein Dam can in turn be maintained by transferring water from the Tugela River in KZN, via the Drakensberg Pumped Storage Scheme.

Providing for our local community

It is a given that, being a relatively large (in the South African context) perennial stream, the Wilge serves as the most important water source for the majority of Mafubians. Water for domestic and industrial use is extracted upstream from Frankfort, treated and fed for consumption into the Frankfort/Namahadi reticulation system. Water for the small town of Cornelia is also distributed from Frankfort via a 42 km pipeline. Water from the Wilge River is also extracted for irrigation of crops grown along the river; agriculture being the major contributor to the local economy.

Image 2: Dam and other water storage facilities were built.

Lately irrigation farming is not an uncommon find next to this source of life…

Mafube Business Forum (MBF) view our rivers as vital for economic development and will continue doing its utmost to promote awareness of the importance of protecting and developing this valuable community asset. MBF invite residents, business owners and ratepayers to visit our offices at 18A Kerk Street, Frankfort on Mondays to Thursdays from 08h30 to 16h00 and Fridays 08h30 to 12h00. Call or send a WhatsApp message to Marina at 079 145 4295. Visit our website and follow us on Facebook.

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