The term veld, sometimes anachronistically spelled veldt in English, is a generic term used to define certain wide open rural spaces of Southern Africa. It is used in particular to refer to flatter areas or districts covered in grass or low scrub, especially in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. A certain sub-tropical woodland ecoregion of Southern Africa has been officially defined as the Bushveld by the World Wide Fund for Nature.
The word veld comes from the Afrikaans word for 'field', but a simple translation does not convey the subtleties of the many idiomatic nuances and technical applications of the term. A typical authoritative dictionary will devote columns, or even pages to the subject.
The etymological origin is older Dutch veldt, a spelling that the Dutch abandoned in favour of veld during the 19th century, decades before the first Afrikaans dictionary. Subsequent addition of the terminal "t" in the spelling "veldt" seems to have been mainly an English confusion with the already obsolete Dutch usage; it never was an Afrikaans form. Even in English its frequency of usage relative to "veld" peaked around the time of the Boer wars, and has lapsed into a minority anachronism since about 1920.
The climate of the veld is highly variable, but its general pattern is mild winters from May to September and hot or very hot summers from November to March, with moderate or considerable variations in daily temperatures and abundant sunshine. Precipitation mostly occurs in the summer months in the form of high-energy thunderstorms.
Over most of the South African Highveld, the average annual rainfall is between 15 and 30 inches (380 and 760 mm), decreasing to about 10 inches (250 mm) near the western border and increasing to nearly 40 inches (1,000 mm) in some parts of the Lesotho Highlands; the South African Lowveld generally receives more precipitation than the Highveld. Temperature is closely related to elevation. In general, the mean July (winter) temperatures range between 45 °F (7 °C) in the Lesotho Highlands and 60 °F (16 °C) in the Lowveld. January (summer) temperatures range between 65 °F (18 °C) and 80 °F (27 °C).
In Zimbabwe the precipitation averages around 30 to 35 inches (760 to 900 mm) on the Highveld, dropping to less than 15 inches in the lowest areas of the Lowveld. Temperatures are slightly higher than in South Africa.
Over the entire veld, seasonal and annual average rainfall variations of up to 40 percent are common. Damaging drought afflicts at least half the area about once every three or four years. Everywhere the average number of hours of annual sunshine varies from 60 to 80 percent of the total amount possible.
Veld can be loosely compared to the Australian terms "outback" or "bush", to the "prairie" of North America, to the "pampas" lowlands of South America, or to the steppe of Central Asia. Someone from Yorkshire might equate "wandering across the moors" to "walking through the veld."
By extension, the veld can be compared to 'the boondocks' or those places 'beyond the black stump' in Australia. There is a sense in which it refers in essence to unimproved land (and is therefore not the equivalent of the English "paddock") and does not include areas used both for pastoral activities and the planting of crops. These areas are referred to as fields. The word is less appropriate for land that is heavily forested, mountainous, or urban. The simplest explanation will be to say the word "veld" means "natural vegetation"; excluding vegetation like swamps and forests. It does include mountains with vegetation but not deserts or mountains without natural vegetation.
The veld definition may encompass different natural environments, both humid and dry, such as Coastal plain, Coastal prairie, Flooded grasslands and savannas, Grassland, Prairie, Savanna, Steppe, Meadow, Water-meadow, Flood-meadow, Wet meadow, as well as agricultural fields. Whereas mountainous peaks and thick forests do not really fit in with the term veld, bushes are acceptable. The area then becomes Bosveld, a term that is used mainly to describe Die Bosveld ("The Bushveld"), which is both a loose botanical classification and a specific geographical part of what used to be known as the Transvaal, as described for example in the story Jock of the Bushveld.
- The word Renosterveld, "rhinoceros-field", is now used to differentiate one of the major vegetation types of the Cape Floristic Region.
- A carefully husbanded sports field on which the game of Rugby is played in the middle of cities such as Cape Town or Johannesburg is referred to as a "rugbyveld" in the Afrikaans language.
- The word "veld" also carries military connotations. The word "field" in English has a strong association with "war", as evidenced by the expression "the first foe in the field" and the lines of the ballad 'Lord Marlborough' (see John Churchill): "You generals all and champions bold, that takes delight in field, that knocks down churches and castle walls but now to death must yield". The same relationship is paralleled in Afrikaans. Just as the English Army has its Field Marshals, the Boer armies had their Veldkornets and Veldkommandos.
- The Rhodesian Ridgeback dog was famous for hunting large game on the African Veld. As a tribute to this wonderful breed many Rhodesian Ridgeback breeders incorporate the word "veld" or "veldt" in their kennel prefix. Once such notable example is the kennel prefix "Veldthund" who have been breeding and showing Rhodesian Ridgebacks in Australia since 1984. The dog Ch Veldthund Sabre ET appears on the pedigree of many of the top Rhodesian Ridgebacks around the world.
Highveld and Lowveld
Much of the interior of southern Africa consists of a high plateau, the higher portions (1500 m – 2100 m) of which are known as the Highveld, starting at the Drakensberg escarpment to the east of the Johannesburg, and sloping gradually downwards to the west and south west, as well as . These higher, cooler areas (generally more than 5,000 feet or 1,500 metres above sea level) are characterised by flat or gently undulating terrain, vast grasslands and a modified tropical or subtropical climate. In some areas there is a distinct escarpment bordering the plateau, while in others the boundary is not obvious. The blesbok and quagga were among the large animals that once roamed in the highveld in great numbers. Nowadays there still is a sizeable population of springbok in some areas.
The lower regions of the central plateau to the north of the Highveld, especially the Limpopo River lowlands, as well as the areas northeast and east of the Drakensberg escarpment in Mpumalanga, to the northeast of the Highveld, are known as Lowveld and are generally hotter and less intensely cultivated. The arid lower plateau regions to the west, south and southwest of the Highveld are not generally referred to as "Lowveld", nor is KwaZulu-Natal beyond the escarpment to the east. Before the middle of the 20th century, much of the Lowveld was home to the tsetse fly, which transmits sleeping sickness. These areas used to be known as "fever country" and were avoided by mounted travellers, owing to the susceptibility of horses to a form of the disease. Formerly malaria, carried by mosquitoes, was a major problem too in the hotter parts of the Lowveld.
The Lowveld is known for its high concentration of big game, including the larger animals, like African elephants, rhino, zebra and wildebeest, while the slow-flowing streams and wetlands of the Lowveld are a haven for the hippos. The Kruger National Park, for example, is located in the eastern Lowveld areas of Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces.
Thornveld or Thorn Veld, often referred to as "acacia thornveld", is a type of semi-arid savanna in which grassland with thorny acacia and certain species of thorny bushes predominate. The predominant plant species are usually different in the thornveld of the plains or in the hill thornveld, where, for example, species of genus Balanites are common. Some of the characteristic species in the thornveld include:
- Grasses: Grass species belonging to genus Themeda and Hyparrhenia
- Trees and bushes: Genus Acacia and Rhus, such as Acacia caffra, Acacia sieberiana and Rhus pentheri and other species like Ziziphus mucronata, Ehretia rigida and Cussonia spicata.
Sandveld and Hardveld
Sandveld, in the general sense of the word, is a type of veld characterised by dry, sandy soil, typical of certain areas of the Southern African region. It usually absorbs all water from the seasonal rains, although aquatic habitats, largely seasonal, may be also found in specific places in the sandveld. Only certain hardy plant species thrive in the sandveld environment. These consist especially of grasses forming clumps and certain kinds of trees and shrubs. The sandveld vegetation has a particular pattern of growth, rarely covering the whole terrain and thus leaving patches of sandy soil exposed on the surface. Some of the typical sandveld species are Acacia haematoxylon, A. luederitzii, Boscia albitrunca, Terminalia sericea, Lonchocarpus nelsii, Bauhinia petersiana and Baphia massaiensis.
The fauna of the sandveld includes mainly reptiles, mammals and birds adapted to living in the sandy environment; some of the small mammals and reptiles often use the sand for protection by burrowing in it.
The term Sandveld is also applied in a specific sense to certain well-defined areas in Southern Africa, such as the Sandveld of the Northwest, a 30 km wide strip along the Atlantic coast of South Africa. The Sandveld of the Kalahari was one of the areas inhabited by the Bushmen, who had adapted to life conditions in the Sandveld since ancient times. The Sandveld Nature Reserve is protecting the biotope of a sandveld zone of the Free State.
Hardveld is a term applied to certain areas of rocky soils in Botswana, located mostly in the eastern part of the country. The landscape is an undulating plain with scattered rocky hill ranges. There are areas of hardveld also in South Africa in the mountainous central Kamiesberg of the Northern Cape with hilly escarpments and deep river valleys. The soil of the hardveld is characterised by rocky outcrops, as well as an abundance of stones and pebbles of different shapes and sizes.
The flora of the hardveld is typical of rocky savanna, with denser vegetation, and thus less denuded patches than in the sandveld, as well as taller trees. There is also a higher diversity of species in the hardveld compared with the sandveld. Peltophorum africanum, Acacia nigrescens, A. tortilis, Combretum apiculatum and Colophospermum mopane are some of the representative species of the northern hardveld.
|“||How well I remember the years I spent tending the cattle on the large farm, roaming over all its far expanse of veld, in which every kloof, every valley, every koppie was endeared to me by the most familiar associations. Month after month I had spent there in lonely occupation—alone with the cattle, myself and God. The veld had grown part of me, not only in the sense that my bones were a part of it, but in that more vital sense which identifies nature with man ... Having no human companion, I felt a spirit of comradeship for the objects around me. In my childish way I communed with these as with my own soul; they became the sharers of my confidence.||”|
- Eric Anderson Walker (ed). The Cambridge History of the British Empire, Volume 4. Cambridge University Press 1963 (Afrikaans: pp. 890–894)
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