17th Century

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The survivors of the Haarlem, wrecked in Table Bay in 1648 recommended that a victualling station be set up there. The weight of their recommendations is not clear, but nevertheless the governing board of the Dutch East India Company, usually referred to as the VOC, resolved to set up a temporary settlement at the foot of Table Mountain. This location was preferred to the safer harbour at Saldanha because of the abundant fresh water running off the slopes of Table Mountain. (ref 2)


~The history of water rights in South Africa can be traced back to the pre-settlement of Europeans in the Cape in 1652. Prior to European Settlement, the water rights were governed by African Customary Law. Needless to say, though, these water rights were not pronounced but were just common knowledge and were also not contested among individuals in a community. They only came up when a community or a tribe felt another tribe or community was unfairly encroaching into its resources to its disadvantage. (ref 5)

~Van Riebeeck established a VOC victualling station in Table Bay, main water supply is Platteklip Stream.(Ref. Timeline:  Water Supply to the City:  The first 300 years – circa)


First environmental ‘legislation’ – aimed at protecting water supplies from human fouling  (Ref.3)

When man arrives pollution follows.  In 1655 van Riebeeck received a complaint from the VOC that the crew of a ship had been made ill by water taken in at the Cape.  This was a serious indictment, not only on van Riebeeck’s competency, but also of the suitability of the Cape as a victualling station – there was competition from St Helena.  He immediately issued a “plakkaat” – the first South African environmental legislation – to prevent pollution of the water source:  Nobody shall turn sheep into the water, nor wash, nor stir up the water above the flow of the beck and fountain where the ships draw water, neither shall anyone dam or divert the water.  People may wash only at the proper place on the east side of the moat of the Fort.  They may not keep geese nor allow them to swim there.  Nobody may cross the water furrow between the Fort and the Mountain with wagon, cattle, or merely in person other than by the usual places and bridges.”  And significantly: “Everyone of the inhabitants shall clear away the mess dirt and dung heaps in front of their houses”.   (Ref.2)


Ref.1. Woodhead Dam. 100 years. Centenary. City of Cape Town. ISBN 1-874924-72-4

Ref.2. Tony Murray. History of Rivers and Drainage in the Cape Metropolitan Area.

Ref.3 Timeline: Water Supply to the City: The first 300 years – circa

Ref.4 Discovering Southern Africa – T.V. Bulpin

Ref.5 http://books.google.com/books?id=if5BWWiEhx8C&pg=PA159&sig=PUL0Ho1kkBdN2PtCNJsSRv5mxOE&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false

Ref 6 South Africa ’77 – Official Yearbook of the Republic of South Africa

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