The Orange River, the longest river in southern Africa is about 2,090 kilometres long. It rises from the Drakensburg Mountains in Lesotho, and flows westward through South Africa discharging its waters to the Atlantic Ocean. One may wonder why a river would take up such a name. Was it from the (orange) fruits grown extensively along its banks? Clearly, orange is a colour that is contradictory to the normal shade of clear or silt filled, brown, murky water. Why not call it Brown River? Well…its discoverer, a Dutch navigator named it in honour of the Dutch prince, William of Orange. This is contrary to the incorrect belief that the river gets its name from the orange colour of its water during sunsets. This is inaccurate since its largest tributary and water source, the Vaal, has pale grey waters.
It is a common trend in Africa for rivers to bear different names as it snakes down its course, even if it flows through only one country. The Orange River is not an exception. As it originates from the Drakensburg Mountains, it runs north-westerly through South Africa. The people call it Gariep River at this stage. At this stage, irrigation of dry land is an extensive practice with large dams being used as reservoirs. As it nears a place called Oranjemund, the name changes and the residents favour the name Grootivier. River Orange or Senqu is most common at its old stage, as it nears to empty its waters into the Atlantic Ocean. The first settlers called it Vigiti Magna but later adopted a more universally friendly name, Orange River, as most people call it today.
South Africa is one of the largest producers and exporters of gold in the world. Just like the sea and ocean waves bring shells to the shore, guess what the Orange deposits on its banks? Diamonds! For millions of years, the river made alluvial deposits in the Namibian coast. The first Eureka diamond discovered in 1867 lay beneath layers of silt and sand along the shores of this river. There still exist diamond deposits along the final course and mouth of the Orange. The diamond zone is restricted since it is possible to find deposits of diamonds in the rich alluvial beds along this stretch. The rights of diamond mining lie with the government, which exploits the diamond mines and earns income from the sale of these precious stones.
Apart from its diamond deposits, the Orange River is quite a tourist attraction. Its waters are quiet and peaceful. This presents an opportunity for water sports like canoe trips. It lacks dangerous water animals like crocodiles and hippopotamuses that infest other African rivers like the Nile. The harsh weather experienced in the South of Africa is the greatest hindrance to its navigation. It flows through the Namib and Kalahari deserts and during months of extremely hot temperatures, its water does not reach the sea. On top of this, the presence of high waterfalls and a series of cataracts make it hard to navigate the Orange River exhaustively.
Despite the navigation drawbacks of the Orange, its contribution to agriculture is far from negligible. Farmers use its waters exhaustively for irrigation and growth of citrus fruits, which do extremely well in the Mediterranean climate of the southern African region. They also cultivate grapes and export them in their raw form, dried form or processed nature, to make very exotic wines.