The Boreholes of the Auob River

The Kgalagadi National Park would not have come into existence were it not for the 16 boreholes drilled in the river bed of the Auob River in the years 1913 to 1914. South Africa was then under British rule and today’s Namibia, then known as German South West Africa, was under German rule. In Europe the war clouds were gathering and in Southern Africa the two colonies were also anticipating military action.

The SA government decided to pre-empt a German invasion or perhaps they were planning to invade their neighbour. Be that as it may, the SA authorities knew that in any event the army would need water. At that early stage the most direct route between the two colonies was along the Auob River bed. The government decided to drill a number of boreholes along this route as well as in the bed of the Kuruman River.

The man who drilled these 16 boreholes was Mias van Heerden. As it turned out the SA army invaded German South West Africa in September 1914 along four other routes. They never used the Auob route. A few of the boreholes were fitted with windpumps and they were guarded by so called borehole guards. 

These borehole guards built humble little homes for their families and kraals for their cattle. The remains of some of these can still be seen on the banks of the Auob River. Auchterlonie was carefully restored as a museum and today is a favourite picnic spot. The water from the boreholes Mias drilled are still slaking the thirst of the animals of the Park, ninety years later.

Mias married Gesina Christina Burger, daughter of borehole guard at Gemsbokplein, Andries Willem Burger, on 21 August 1912, a year before drilling the boreholes. The Park only came into existence on 31 July 1931.

Mias and Gesina van Heerden had eight children. He passed away on 13 November 1956. A photograph of Mias recently came to light and I thank his grandson Piet van Heerden of Randburg for sending it to me.

You can read more in The History of the Kgalagadi National Park, a book published by me. It follows on the publication of the biography of the last Le Riche Park Warden, Elias le Riche, Die Leeuvanger van Nossob, Elias le Riche. Both books can be ordered from
Mias van Heerden
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Book: History of the Kgalagadi National Park