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Olifants River (Limpopo)

Coordinates: 24°6′44″S 32°38′25″E / 24.11222°S 32.64028°E / -24.11222; 32.64028
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Olifants River
Olifantsrivier, Rio dos Elefantes
Olifants River as it flows through the Kruger National Park
Olifants River (Limpopo) is located in South Africa
Olifants River (Limpopo)
Location of the Olifants-Limpopo confluence
EtymologyOlifant means "elephant" in Afrikaans, Obalule, means "long, stretched-out one" and Lepelle means "slow-flowing" or "distant"[1]
Native name
CountrySouth Africa and Mozambique
ProvincesMpumalanga, Limpopo and Gaza
Physical characteristics
SourceNear Bethal
 • locationMpumalanga, South Africa
 • coordinates26°20′33″S 29°49′47″E / 26.34250°S 29.82972°E / -26.34250; 29.82972
 • elevation1,800 m (5,900 ft)
MouthLimpopo River
 • location
Gaza Province, Mozambique
 • coordinates
24°6′44″S 32°38′25″E / 24.11222°S 32.64028°E / -24.11222; 32.64028
Basin size54,570 km2 (21,070 sq mi)
Basin features
 • leftLetaba River
 • rightSteelpoort River
Course and catchment of the Limpopo River. The Olifants joins the Limpopo from the right, some 190 kilometres from the Indian Ocean.

The Olifants River, Lepelle,[3] iBhalule or Obalule[4] (Afrikaans: Olifantsrivier; Portuguese: Rio dos Elefantes) is a river in South Africa and Mozambique, a tributary of the Limpopo River. It falls into the Drainage Area B of the Drainage basins of South Africa. The historical area of the Pedi people, Sekhukhuneland, is located between the Olifants River and one of its largest tributaries, the Steelpoort River.[5]


The Olifants River has its origin between Breyten and Bethal, Mpumalanga Province.[6] It flows north towards Limpopo Province through Witbank Dam and then the Loskop Dam and is forced east by the Transvaal Drakensberg, cutting through at the Abel Erasmus Pass and then flowing east further across the Lowveld to join with the Letaba River. It crosses into Gaza Province, Mozambique, after cutting through the Lebombo Mountains by way of the Olifants Gorge, becoming the Rio dos Elefantes, and finally joining the Limpopo River after 40 km before it enters the Indian Ocean at Xai-Xai north of Maputo.[7]

Water quality[edit]

Overgrazing in sections of its middle course result in the river carrying away eroded soil after heavy rains.[8] The Olifants river has become one of the most heavily polluted rivers in South Africa, not by human or industrial waste, but by thriving green algae.[9] A 2013 study in the Kruger Park found that the river was mesotrophic, meaning that nutrient levels were fairly low, though a slight increase in nitrates could initiate eutrophication. Very high sulphate levels were attributed to coal mining and industry in the upper catchment.[10]


The Olifants River's largest tributaries are the Letaba River[11] and the Steelpoort River known as Tubatse River.[12] Other tributaries are the Tongwane, Blyde, Moses, Spekboom, Timbavati, Nkumpi, Ga-Selati, Klaserie, Makhutswi, Mohlapitse River, Lepellane River, Mohwetse River and Ngwaritsi River. Some tributaries, notably the Klein Olifants River (origin near Hendrina, joins the Olifants River downstream of the Middelburg Dam), the Elands, Wilge and the Bronkhorstspruit, rise in the Highveld grasslands.[13] The Shingwedzi River flows close to the northeastern side of the Massingir Dam reservoir and joins the left bank of the Olifants about 12 km downstream from the dam wall.[14]


Thirty large dams in the Olifants River Catchment include the following:

South Africa[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Transvaal Indigenous Place Names Archived 2008-10-31 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "State of Rivers Report - The Olifants River System". Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. Archived from the original on 2007-07-03. Retrieved 2009-02-19.
  3. ^ Olifants River now called Lepelle
  4. ^ Transvaal Indigenous Place Names Archived 2008-10-31 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "The Ba Pedi". Archived from the original on 2012-03-14. Retrieved 2012-03-14.
  6. ^ Major rivers and streams within the Limpopo River Basin
  7. ^ Key rivers of South Africa Archived 2012-07-10 at archive.today
  8. ^ The Olifants River System Archived 2007-07-03 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Contaminated Olifants River Running Out of Time
  10. ^ Smit, NJ; Wepener, V; Vlok, W; Wagenaar, GM; van Vuren, JHJ (2013). Conservation of tigerfish, Hydrocynus vittatus, in the Kruger National Park with the emphasis on establishing the suitability of the water quantity and quality requirements for the Olifants and Luvuvhu rivers: report to the Water Research Commission (PDF). Gezina [South Africa]: Water Research Commission. p. vi. ISBN 978-1-4312-0358-1. Retrieved 28 February 2022.
  11. ^ Luvuvu Lethaba WMA 2
  12. ^ Major rivers and streams within the Limpopo River Basin
  13. ^ Olifants river WMA 4
  14. ^ Shingwedzi River: why is it the most polluted river in the KNP?
  15. ^ Massingir Dam & Flooding of Olifants Gorge

External links[edit]