The small town of Kakamas was built on the sheer hard work and determination of a couple of impoverished stock farmers at the end of the 19th century.
In 1897, the Dutch Reformed Church started a “colony” on the farms Soetap and Kakamas on the banks of the Orange River for white people who had lost everything as a result of the drought.
Ignoring the criticism of qualified engineers about their building methods, the farmers continued to construct the water canals by hand that are still used to supply the town and surrounding area with water for irrigation. For their efforts they were each awarded the right to one of the irrigation plots. The men worked extremely hard even taking the yoke upon themselves, rather than wasting precious time in launching a time consuming search for oxen and donkeys grazing somewhere in the veld.
The exceptional dry piling of the stone along rocky slopes can still be seen today. By dry piling instead of excavating through rock, the farmers were able to cut the overall costs of the canals considerably.
The ingenuity of the workers under the leadership of Japie Lutz is aptly demonstrated in the workmanship at the water tunnels in the northern canal.
Mr Piet Burger perfected the water wheel that was widely used in Kakamas. This pumping device almost led to a court case about patent rights, when a blacksmith who used to live in Kakamas registered the patent in 1922.
The Commission that ran the “colony” planned ahead and in 1912 building operations on a hydro-electric power station and turbine in the northern canal were started. Ultimately the power station, built to look like an Egyptian temple, generated so much electricity that the Kakamas town management liased with Upington about the possibility of Kakamas supplying this neighbouring town with electricity too! Thanks to irrigation from the Orange River farmers from the Kakamas area are now prime exporters of table grapes to Europe and England. The region also exports raisins, oranges and dates.
The name Kakamas was originally given to a drift that was known as Takemas or T’Kakamas since 1779. The name means “place of the raging cow” – probably referring to an incident when a raging cow stormed the Korana while they were herding their cattle through the drift.