The Orange River flows through a semi-desert when it gets to the Northern Cape towns of Upington and Kakamas. But once its life-giving waters enter the furrows and are pumped to the heights by ancient Persian waterwheels, the land turns fertile and able to support a great fruit industry.

Did you know?

In the late 18th century, great herds of buffalo regularly passed through the Kakamas area.

Kakamas is a thriving little village 90km west of Upington, on the banks of the Orange River in the Northern Cape.

As you look about at the enormous spreads of fruit – mainly peaches and grapes – you’ll see a series of furrows being milled by old-technology waterwheels. Although they are popularly known as Persian Wheels, their original design comes from ancient Egypt.

One of Kakamas’ most innovative residents, Piet Burger, adapted the waterwheel for local conditions and it is still used as a pumping device to get water to higher ground.

Thus was laid the foundations for a thriving fruit farming industry. Out of this emerged the famed Kakamas Peach (also known as the Collins Peach), which became the standard canning peach of South Africa. The ‘Kakamas’ is rich-yellow in colour, deliciously fleshed and perfectly shaped for canning. A single Kakamas peach tree is said to be the common ancestor of all trees supplying the South African peach-canning industry.

Then came the establishment of sultana crops (for raisins), followed by table grapes – now a major export from the area.

Kakamas is bustling and prosperous these days, but it has emerged from very humble origins. The 1895-97 drought was followed by the rinderpest, an agricultural scourge which ruined most of the farmers in the area. The government of the day decided to prepare this part of the Orange River Valley as a settlement for the poor.

The fertile river islands of Marchand, Zoetap and Neus were put under irrigation and most farming ventures turned out very well. Kakamas Township was established in 1931. Some say it’s a Khoi word derived from ‘gagamas’, which means ‘brown’. Others say it means ‘vicious, charging ox’ in an indigenous language. Either way, Kakamas and its old waterwheels now seem to face a happy future together.

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