Although South Africa is rich in mineral resources the nation is poor in water supplies, and every stream that winds across the country's face has importance. Among the larger of these rivers - all of which in size would scarcely warrant the name elsewhere in the world - is the River Vaal. Only in spate would the Vaal have been considered a river until man impounded its waters, and because this has been done the River Vaal has special significance.
Even in the days before the great water schemes were to broaden and deepen the Vaal's course, its waters were impounded at Vereeniging by Leslie's weir and the eight-mile expanse of water, together with the coal deposits of the area, set the pattern for the town's development industrially. However, in earlier times the river's waters did serve local agriculture.
Practically all farming activities had come to a halt in the Vereeniging district following the mobilisation of the Boers at the outbreak of the war. Coal mining operations were equally affected by the departure of Uitlander employees and the return of African labourers to their kraals; and following this exodus production came to a standstill from May to September, 1899, except for providing local needs.
Before the war, Vereeniging Estates had embarked on an ambitious agricultural scheme far surpassing in magnitude any previous schemes attempted in the Republic. Marks imported steamploughs and other agricultural implements and machinery to cultivate maize and other crops in the young forest plantations at Maccauvlei. The results amazed local observers who at first had been cynical about the project. After the war the company expanded its farming operations and ranged on its property a total of 1,764 head of livestock, mostly oxen, but 45 horses were put out to graze on the veld as well. In 1903, it was estimated that the company's agricultural operations yielded 9,892 bags of maize and 6,216 bags of kaffir-corn; harvests which were supplemented by the yields of many other crops.
Sometime during the decade which preceded the war, Indian labourers and their families were brought to Vereeniging from Natal to work at the brickfields. Later, permission was granted by the Free State Government for 50
of their number and their families to work and live at Maccauvlei where they attended to the estate company's nurseries. In time to come, in the tradition of their compatriots in Natal, they entered into business to become traders and shopkeepers in Vereeniging.
In 1905, the age-old appearance of the Vaal River at Vereeniging was changed when Leslie constructed a weir across the river to impound water for irrigation and the further development of the plantations and farmlands at Maccauvlei.
In extending its farming ventures, Vereeniging Estates ranged 5,000 sheep on the Maccauvlei property. Ostriches were introduced to roam the veld, and pigs were brought in to forage in the forest. Sweet potatoes were sown and tobacco planted - not for the manufacture of cigarettes but for the making of sheep dip.
The company was to continue its farming operations at Maccauvlei until the year 1923 and when agriculture and animal husbandry was abandoned the company's farmlands were divided into smaller properties on which houses were built then leased to farmers.
Vereeniging Estates retained Leslie to build the weir, which he erected just above the present single-lane road bridge; and, although on completion it was only five feet above normal low water level, the weir dammed back the Vaal for a distance of eight miles.
In the years to come, the water impounded was to supply the requirements of the Victoria Falls power station, which in 1912 was erected on the riverside.