From Berea to Xai Xai – the Braamfontein Spruit

Source: 'Water, Water everywhere ...'

Source: ‘Water, Water everywhere …’

 I recently visited the Barnato High School in Berea to do some scoping for a possible heritage report and was fascinated to discover that the Braamfontien Spruit rises in the grounds of this school. Apparently when Barnato built his mansion in Berea in 1897 (It was demolished in 1962) he created a lake in front of it which was large enough for boating. This lake was filled from the spring which is the source of the Braamfontein Spruit.  A semi-circular piece of  tarmac in the middle of the school grounds is supposedly a remnant of the lake’s edging.  A huge cork tree planted by Barnato is still extant near the site of the original lake.

This got me thinking about Joburg’s ‘rivers’ –  I put ‘rivers’ in inverted commas as these are hardly wide gushing water sources, except when there are flash floods after a torrential Highveld storm.  But they nevertheless form a complex system of small waterways which drain the water from ‘the ridge of white waters’ westward  to the Atlantic Ocean and eastward to the Indian Ocean. 

In a recent lecture, William Kentridge spoke of Johannesburg’s vertical geography.  He was of course referring to the fact that, unlike most other major cities, Johannesburg’s location is not dependent on a horizontal geography such as a trade route, a river, a harbour, a market centre, or a protected or fertile valley, but rather on its relationship to what lies beneath the surface, namely, the gold reef.   But this does not mean that there aren’t spruits and streams which spread throughout Johannesburg’s suburbs finally flowing into the two major rivers of the Orange (exiting into the Atlantic Ocean) and the Limpopo (exiting into the Indian Ocean).  The longest and best known of these is the Braamfontien Spruit . “Braamfontein” means “spring of brambles”.

From Berea, the Braamfontein runs through Pieter Roos Park (near Clarendon Place) , and down Empire Road to the German School in Auckland Park.  After flowing  towards the Parkview Golf Course, where it is partly canalized, it exits the golf course and runs through Parkhurst, where it meets its tributary the Westdene Spruit.

Rising just above the Westdene Dam, the Westdene flows north east under the University of Johannesburg sports grounds, and down through Melville Koppies to Emmarentia Dam, and then to Parkhurst.  Just north of Emmarentia Dam the Montgomery Spruit (which rises in Albertskroon and flows through Montgomery Park, and Rooseveldt Park), joins the Westdene Spruit.  They merge with the Braamfontein at the bottom of Rustenburg Road in Parkhurst and flow through the western edge of Parkhurst, towards Delta Park in Craighall, the Sandton Field and Study Centre, and Bryanston, before heading towards the confluence with the Sandspruit at Sunninghill Park.

Source: Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

A kilometre or two beyond Sunninghill Park, just past Leeuwkop Prison, the river meets the Jukskei, which rises at Ellis Park, and which in turn joins the Crocodile River 3-4 km north of Lanseria Airport. The Crocodile flows into the Hartebeespoort Dam and out to meet the Marico River, which runs along the border with Botswana. Merging with another tributary, the Lenkwane River, it becomes the Limpopo flowing north eastwards and  forming the border with Botswana and Zimbabwe, exiting South Africa just north of the Pafuri Gate in the Kruger, into Mozambique. It then flows down through western Mozambique and reaches the Indian Ocean as a huge river some 800 m wide at its mouth near Xai Xai about 200km north of Maputo. It’s a journey of about 1 800km and a far cry from the small spring rising in the grounds of the Barnato Park High School.

Largely ignored and ‘unknown’ until the 1970s when James Clarke, the Star journalist who ran an environmental campaign called CARE  published the first map of the Spruit in 1974.  A drive ensued (motivated by Peter Milstein, then deputy director of the Transvaal Nature Conservation division) to clean up the Spruit. The Lions (Zoo Lake Chapter) organised a “Braamies Day” in 1974 and James Clarke appealed via The Star for public support. Clarke writes (‘Stoeptalk’ The Star 3 Sept 2009) :

One Saturday morning in spring 400 people came to the stream just off the Rustenberg Road in Parkhurst and the 32 km clean-up began there. The Boy Scouts built a bridge across the stream which saved hours of work for those wheeling rubbish to the hoppers that Waste Tech provided. Coca Cola sent a truckload of drinks (gratis) for people who worked through the day. The mayor turned up (Dr Bensusan) in formal attire but spent the day hauling car hulks out of the stream. We must have cleared 10 hectares. Johannesburg municipality mowed the grass for the first time ever. The Lions had people to remove the matted wattles and some of the gum trees and to our amazement it exposed a beautiful granite outcrop through which the stream tumbled. Near sunset a local butcher (I just wish I could recall who) arrived with a bakkie full of meat and as darkness took over I saw a dozen braai fires going.

According to Clarke the Spruit became the longest municipal park in the world (32 km). Three municipalities were involved – Johannesburg, Randburg and Sandton – and they formed a joint committee – historically the first metropolitan act involving the three.

In 1891 William Rattray bought the farm Klipfontein in 1891 and renamed it Craighall, nowadays the suburbs of Craighall,   Craighall Park and Blairgowrie.  In the early 20th century  Rattray dammed the Braamfontein Spruit in Craighall, forming what was known as Rattray’s Dam.  Today all that survives of Rattray’s Dam is a 50m wide stone wall which forms a small waterfall near Conrad Drive in Blairgowrie. And it is near here on Hillcrest Avenue that many cyclists park begin one of the many  cycle rides along the Spruit and meet afterwards at the Citizen’s Cafe for breakfast. 

For more on walking and cycling the Spruit see  and L   If you are going to walk or cycle in Delta, (and the other park areas) make sure that it is during the busy times when there are lots of other park users. Morning and evening there is usually lots of activity – both leisure-users and people walking to work. Of course week-end mornings it’s a positive cycling highway and week-end afternoons there are  lots of walkers,with and without dogs, horse riders and Christian groups who meet for their open-air services.

For more on Joburg’s Rivers see

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