It’s no news that South Africa is home to many beautiful structures and cultures. The country is renowned for having some of Africa’s most eye-catching landscapes. Another physical resource that the country is known for is its magnificent water reservoirs, otherwise called dams.
Water dams could be used for several functions. Although the term “water reservoir” seems solely restricted to storing water, its uses vary. Some are used to channel water away from their source, to other smaller sources, especially for irrigation purposes; some other dams are used to keep water only below the ground level—usually used by geographers.
Water dams can also be used to generate power through hydroelectricity. Others could be used to reduce the water flow velocity in hopes of checking erosion or, conversely, to increase the flow velocity in certain parts. Because of how delicate and yet important these structures are, the local authorities protect them. Some have been turned into wildlife resorts that bring in revenue for the government.
Which is the Largest Dam in South Africa?
The Gariep Dam is officially known as the largest dam in the country. The biggest water reservoirs in South Africa are categorized by the volume of water they contain at maximum capacity. These reservoirs act as freshwater supplies, electricity generators, and irrigation systems. Usually, dams between 3 to 15 meters tall fall into the “big” category. Some of them could hold as much as 3 million m³ of water.
Below is a compilation list of South Africa’s biggest dams according to maximum volume capacities:
1. Gariep Dam
- Size: 88 m (height), 914 m (length), 374 km2 (surface area)
- Water Volume: 5,340,000 ml
- Inlets: Orange, Caledon, Sterkspruit, Broekspruit, Barkspruit, Palmietspruit, and Oude Spruit
- Mostly Used for: Recreation Sports, Electricity Generation, 4×4 trails, Boat Cruising, Canoeing, Touring, Motor Boating, and MTB trails.
This massive water reservoir is primarily acknowledged as the largest in South Africa. It was built in 1965 and was constructed out of pure concrete. The dam was built in the town of Norvalspont, located between the Eastern Cape and the Free State. It was commissioned for use in 1971 and has been functional for over 51 years. The spot remains one of the best and most popular vacation destinations in South Africa and is a well-known location for water sporting activities.
2. Heyshope Dam
- Size: 28.5 m (height), 1030 (length), 5 023.8 ha (surface area)
- Water Volume: 4,534,400 ml
- Inlets: Assegai River
- Mostly Used for: Fishing, Forestry
The Heyshope dam was created in 1986 and is the biggest one in Mpumalanga province. It is controlled by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. The 36-year-old dam is an earth-fill type and is a famous fishing zone in the province. Some of the fish species found in the Assegai River—where the dam is built—include the carp, yellow fish, and the largemouth bass.
3. Vanderkloof Dam
- Size: 108 m (height), 766 m (length), 133.402 km2 (surface area)
- Water Volume: 3 187 557 ml
- Inlets: Gariep Reservoir
- Mostly Used for: Hydroelectricity, Fishing
Originally named PK Le Roux, after a former South African Minister of Water Affairs & Agricultural Technical Services, the Vanderkloof dam was built in 1973 and officially commissioned in 1977. The 49-year-old dam is the second biggest dam in South Africa, with a volume capacity of over 3 million megalitres. It is about 130 kilometers (81 miles) away from the Gariep reservoir, which is its major inlet. The Vanderkloof reservoir typically produces up to 360 megawatts of energy while doubling as a major fishing port for mudfish, catfish, yellowfish, and carp.
4. Sterkfontein Dam
- Size: 93 m (height), 18.8 m (length), 69.37 km² (surface area)
- Water Volume: 2,616,000 ml
- Inlets: Tugela River
- Mostly Used for: As a Water Reservoir
This famous dam is the third-largest in the country and boasts the second-highest dam wall after Gariep. The name Sterkfontein is Afrikaans for ‘Strong Fountain,’ evidence of its solid, high walls. The dam is 42 years old; it was initially constructed in 1969 but was finished 11 years later, in 1980.
Sterkfontein dam possesses a smaller reservoir called the Driekloof Dam, which spills over when the main dam is submerged. The dam is located close to Harrismith town in the Free State and was built along a small river named the Tugela River. It is said that this dam was built to combat a serious water scarcity that Johannesburg experienced in the seventies.
5. Vaal Dam
- Size: 322 km² (area), 800 km (length)
- Water Volume: 2,613,500 ml
- Inlets: Vaal River, Wilge River, Klip River, Grootspuit River, Molspuit River and Sterkfontein
- Mostly Used for: Water Sports, Fishing, Recreation
The Vaal Dam is an ancient one and was created in 1938. It is the second-largest dam in the country by surface area mass and the fourth-largest by volume capacity. The shoreline of this dam is almost 800 kilometers long. The Vaal is the largest dam in Gauteng province and stretches into two other major towns: Free State and Mpumalanga. The Vaal dam is built along the Vaal River, about 77 km south of the OP Tambo International Airport.
The inlets that feed the dam include the Vaal river, Wilge River, and Klip River. It also receives water from the Sterkfontein dam when its water levels drop low, but that does not occur often. The island surrounding the dam is usually known for hosting the yearly ‘Round the Island’ yacht race that the South African elite like to indulge in. Other recreational activities the dam is used for include water sports like rowing, canoeing, and fishing.
6. Pongolapoort/Lake Jozini Dam
- Size: 7814 km² (water catchment area), 13,272.8 km² (surface area), 89 m (height), 451 m (length)
- Water Volume: 2,445,900 ml
- Inlets: Lake Jozini, Phongolo River
- Mostly Used for: Recreational Park, Irrigation
The dam was built nearly 50 years ago in 1973 and is the fifth biggest in the country. It is located about 280km to the North East of Durban but is primarily in KwaZulu-Natal province. Its primary purpose was for irrigation, but it has expanded its uses to include sustaining the recreational activities of a wildlife park. This particular water reservoir is a massive tourist attraction because of the presence of exotic birds and animals.
Lake Jozini is home to over 350 species of exotic birds and other wild animals like giraffes, elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, and zebras. Right now, there are a lot of concerns about the safety of the water, as cases of pesticide pollution have become more common, and relevant authorities will have to step in soon or risk endangering the animals.
7. Bloemhof Dam
- Size: 33 m (height), 4270 m (length)
- Water Volume: 1,269,000,000 m³
- Inlets: Vaal and Vet Rivers
- Mostly Used for: Irrigation, Fishing
This dam was constructed in 1960 and was initially known as Oppermansdrif Dam. Nearly 62 years later, Bloemhof is mainly known as the dam with the longest crest in South Africa with a whopping length of 4,270 meters. It is located at the confluence point between the Vaal and Vet rivers and between the Free State and the North-Western province of South Africa. The dam famously provides one of the best fishing, bird watching, and picnic locations in the Free State.
8. Greater Brandvlei Dam
- Size: 21.5 m (height), 1250 m (length), 4110 m² (surface area)
- Water Volume: 459,000,000 ml
- Inlets: Breede River
- Mostly Used for: Fishing and Irrigation
The dam was built in 1989 after two Brandvlei and Kwaggaskloof reservoirs were combined to make it. It is only over thirty years old, and in that time, the dam has been used primarily for irrigating farmlands near the Breede River—upon which it was built. The area is mostly home to the local fishermen, and although the fishing activities are fun, it’s best to watch out for the submerged weeds and shrubs, as they can make fishing difficult for the inexperienced.
9. Theewaterskloof Dam
- Size: 25 m (height), 645 m (length), 5059 m² (surface area),
- Water Volume: 480,000,000 ml
- Inlets: Sonderend River
- Mostly Used for: Recreational Activity, Domestic Purposes, and Irrigation
This dam was constructed and commissioned in 1980 and is just over 42 years old. Initially built for irrigation purposes, the Theewaterskloof reservoir is built on the Sonderend River near Villiersdorp village in Western Cape. It is Cape Town’s largest water reservoir with a 480 million m3 capacity. It is also a major tourist attraction for Cape Town as people often come to watch the natives hike, play golf, and fish. There is also an annual Synergy Live Music Festival that takes place on the shores of the dam.
10. De Hoop Dam
- Size: 81 m (height), 1000 m (length)
- Water Volume: 374,600,000 ml
- Inlets: Steelpoort River
- Mostly Used for: Domestic Purposes
De Hoop is a gravity dam built on the Steelpoort River near Burgersfort in Sekhukhune. The De Hoop dam was famously constructed to assist in the mineral mining activities going on in Limpopo and remains one of the largest dams in that particular area. It isn’t clear exactly when the dam was constructed, but the 374.6 million megalitre reservoir is about 81 m high and 1000 m long. This dam provided potable water for the nearly 900,000 inhabitants of the Nebo Plateau.
11. Woodstock Dam
- Size: 54 m (height), 865 m (length),
- Water Volume: 373,260,000 ml
- Inlets: Tugela River
- Mostly Used for: Tourist Attraction
This reservoir is located about 50 km south of Harrismith on the upper banks of the Tugela River in KwaZulu-Natal province. The dam was built in 1982, making it about 40 years old. On the river’s shores, endless activities showcase the history, architecture, and culture of the Harrismith folk.
12. Grootdraai Dam
- Size: 2180 m (length) 42 m (height)
- Water Volume: 350,000,000 ml
- Inlets: Vaal River
- Mostly Used for: Hydroelectricity
Grootdraai was constructed in 1981 and was built as a composite structure along the Vaal River. The 41-year-old reservoir was initially built to deliver water to the following power plants: The ESKOM Tutuka Power Station, the Duyha Power Station, and the Malta Power Station.
This particular dam experiences stronger winds than the Vaal Dam, so it is perfect for windsurfing. The wind also helps to generate power at a faster rate. It is also a very well-known tourist zone, with more and more hotels being established yearly around the area.
13. Loskop Dam
- Size: 49 m (height), 105 m (length), 12285 km² (surface area)
- Water Volume: 362,000,000 ml
- Inlets: Olifants River
- Mostly Used for: Irrigation
This dam was constructed in 1939 and is 83 years old currently. The Loskop dam is located in Mpumalanga and was built along the Olifants River near Groblersdal town. Its primary purpose is for irrigation, and this is because Groblersdal is a farming town. It’s also home to the famous Loskop Games Reserve because the dam’s waters are home to hundreds of crocodiles.
14. Goedertrouw Dam
- Size: 88 m (height), 660 m (length)
- Water Volume: 301,000,000 ml
- Inlets: Mhlathuze River
- Mostly Used for: Fishing
This dam is an earth-filled reservoir built on the Mhlathuze River in KwaZulu-Natal province in 1980. It opened two years later in 1982 and was commissioned by the Department of Water Affairs. The Goedertrouw dam is the main water provider for the industrial complex located in Richards Bay. Goedertrouw is famous for its abundance of bass fish species.
15. Brandvlei Dam
- Size: N/A
- Water Volume: 303,800,000 ml
- Inlets: Holsloot River
- Mostly Used for: Camping, Fishing, and Yachting
The Brandvlei water reservoir was built in 1983 and is about 39 years old. Its inlet is the Holsoot River. Brandvlei water dam is connected to the Kwaggaskloof dam with an adjoining wall. When the wall is submerged, the two dams form a dam with a combined volume of 458 million mega-liters. This dam is the best fishing location for small-mouth bass fish in the entire country. Some other recreational activities like camping and yachting are popular at this dam.
16. Albert Falls Dam
- Size: 33 m (height), 23.521 km² (surface area)
- Water Volume: 290,100,000 ml
- Inlets: Umgeni
- Mostly Used for: Camping and Fishing
The Albert Falls is a major mind-blowing tourist attraction zone in South Africa. It also houses one of the country’s largest dams: A 290.1 million m³ capacity reservoir located on the Umgeni River in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal Province. Albert Falls was built 46 years ago in 1976 and boasts a 33 m high wall and an over 23.521 km² surface area. The dam also boasts of being one of South Africa’s best campsites.
17. Spioenkop Dam
- Size: 2000 m (length), 33 m (height), 15 km² (surface area)
- Water Volume: 272,265,000 m³
- Inlets: Tugela River
- Mostly Used for: Recreational Activity
One of the many dams that utilize the Tugela river as an inlet, the Spioenkop dam is located in KwaZulu-Natal between Winterton and Ladysmith. It was built in 1976 and was commissioned by the Department of Water Affairs the following year. This dam is a favorite water recreational sports center for the public as there are lots of activities going on here.
18. Kalkfontein Dam
- Size: 23 m (height), 317 m (length), 3 769 ha (area)
- Water Volume: 258,274,000 m³
- Inlets: Riet River
- Mostly Used for: Irrigation and Domestic Purposes
The Riet River is where this dam is located. The Kalkfontein reservoir can be found in the Free State and was built in 1983 for irrigation and domestic use. This dam is about 39 years old, and singlehandedly enabled the people of Riet River to attain food security in the region. Many camping and fishing activities always take place at the dam.
19. Mthatha Dam
- Size: 2541.7 ha (area), 886 km² (catchment area)
- Water Volume: 253,674,000 ml
- Inlets: Mthatha River
- Mostly Used for: Domestic and Commercial Activities
This dam was built exactly 45 years ago in 1977. It was constructed along the Mthatha River, hence its name. The primary purpose of the dam was to aid domestic affairs and commercial and industrial purposes. The reservoir is located in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.
20. Kruismansrivier Dam
- Size: 18 m (height), 18 ha (surface area)
- Water Volume: 1,500,000 ml
- Inlets: Kruis River
- Mostly Used for: Sports, Irrigation
This earth-filled reservoir is one of the largest in South Africa and was constructed along the Kruis River in Western Cape. It was also commissioned in 1992, making it about 30 years old currently. It was built mainly for irrigation and commercial water supplies, but the consistently high water levels have transformed it into a favorable venue for water sports.