1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Limpopo

LIMPOPO, or Crocodile, a river of S.E. Africa over 1000 m. in length, next to the Zambezi the largest river of Africa entering the Indian Ocean. Its head streams rise on the northern slopes of the Witwatersrand less than 300 m. due W. of the sea, but the river makes a great semicircular sweep across the high plateau first N.W., then N.E. and finally S.E. It is joined early in its course by the Marico and Notwani, streams which rise along the westward continuation of the Witwatersrand, the ridge forming the water-parting between the Vaal and the Limpopo basins. For a great part of its course the Limpopo forms the north-west and north frontiers of the Transvaal. Its banks are well wooded and present many picturesque views. In descending the escarpment of the plateau the river passes through rocky ravines, piercing the Zoutpansberg near the north-east corner of the Transvaal at the Toli Azimé Falls. In the low country it receives its chief affluent, the Olifants river (450 m. long), which, rising in the high veld of the Transvaal east of the sources of the Limpopo, takes a more direct N.E. course than the main stream. The Limpopo enters the ocean in 25° 15′ S. The mouth, about 1000 ft. wide, is obstructed by sandbanks. In the rainy season the Limpopo loses a good deal of its water in the swampy region along its lower course. High-water level is 24 ft. above low-water level, when the depth in the shallowest part does not exceed 3 ft. The river is navigable all the year round by shallow-draught vessels from its mouth for about 100 m., to a spot known as Gungunyana’s Ford. In flood time there is water communication south with the river Komati (q.v.). At this season stretches of the Limpopo above Gungunyana’s Ford are navigable. The river valley is generally unhealthy.

The basin of the Limpopo includes the northern part of the Transvaal, the eastern portion of Bechuanaland, southern Matabeleland and a large area of Portuguese territory north of Delagoa Bay. Its chief tributary, the Olifants, has been mentioned. Of its many other affluents, the Macloutsie, the Shashi and the Tuli are the most distant north-west feeders. In this direction the Matoppos and other hills of Matabeleland separate the Limpopo basin from the valley of the Zambezi. A little above the Tuli confluence is Rhodes’s Drift, the usual crossing-place from the northern Transvaal into Matabeleland. Among the streams which, flowing north through the Transvaal, join the Limpopo is the Nylstroom, so named by Boers trekking from the south in the belief that they had reached the river Nile. In the coast region the river has one considerable affluent from the north, the Chengane, which is navigable for some distance.

The Limpopo is a river of many names. In its upper course called the Crocodile that name is also applied to the whole river, which figures on old Portuguese maps as the Oori (or Oira) and Bembe. Though claiming the territory through which it ran the Portuguese made no attempt to trace the river. This was first done by Captain J. F. Elton, who in 1870 travelling from the Tati goldfields sought to open a road to the sea via the Limpopo. He voyaged down the river from the Shashi confluence to the Toli Azimé Falls, which he discovered, following the stream thence on foot to the low country. The lower course of the river had been explored 1868–1869 by another British traveller—St Vincent Whitshed Erskine. It was first navigated by a sea-going craft in 1884, when G. A. Chaddock of the British mercantile service succeeded in crossing the bar, while its lower course was accurately surveyed by Portuguese officers in 1895–1896. At the junction of the Lotsani, one of the Bechuanaland affluents, with the Limpopo, are ruins of the period of the Zimbabwes.