(Khoekhoe: Tsoaxaub) is a major river in the
western part of Namibia, reaching the sea at the southern edge of the
(German for Mouth of the Swakop). The Swakop is an
ephemeral river, its run-off is roughly 40 million cubic metres per
The Swakop River, along with its main tributary Khan, is one of the
largest temporary water-bearing rivers in the dry western part of
Namibia. It is 460 km long and has a 30,100 km ² large
catchment area. In Swakopmund, it flows into the South Atlantic. The
name comes from the Khoekhoe languages of the Nama and Damara
Tsoa-xaub. Tsoa means ‘excrement opening’ or ‘anus‘ while xaub
stands for the ‘contents of excrement.’ This name derives from the
observation that the flow of large amounts of brownish sludge in the
rain with it and discharges into the Atlantic Ocean.
The area around the river mouth and the surrounding dunes are also
known for rich bird life and some unusual plant species (like the
Welwitschia) that use the regular fog drifting in from the sea to
sustain themselves in the absence of other moisture.
Groundwater levels in the area have also dropped about 0.3 m further
due to the presence of two big dams built on the Swakop River.
Notwithstanding the river’s irregular flow, some agriculture is
undertaken in the
valley, thus the region is well known
for its fresh produce, especially tomatoes, asparagus and olives.
There are some fears of salt and uranium (possibly natural, possibly
from the Rössing uranium mine) endangering this farming
2 Vegetation and fauna
3 Usage and colonisation
The Swakop drains a catchment area of 30,100 km² extending from
the mouth into the
Atlantic Ocean at
in the east to about 50 km from Okahandja, and in the south to
Khomas Highlands outside Windhoek. The highest point of the watershed
is located at 2480 m. Annual rainfall varies from 0 mm in the
lower reaches up to 475 mm in the eastern Khomas Highlands. 39%
of the catchment area experiences rainfall that exceeds 300 mm
per year, and up to 80% of the catchment experiences annual rainfall
above 100 mm.
Von Bach Dam
Von Bach Dam near
Swakoppoort Dam west of Gross
Barmen in the upper reaches of the Swakop are of great importance for
the water supply of Central Namibia. Like all rivers, the Swakop also
has a number of major sources and major wetlands in the lower reaches.
Existing groundwater, however, is often salty due to soil salinity.
On the lower reaches of the river, flooding has become ever more
increasing, due to increased land use of the Swakop gallery forests.
This contributes to a stronger and more rapid runoff and increased
erosion of the Swakop Marshlands.
Vegetation and fauna
Because of its size and scope, the Swakop has a very diverse catchment
area. 29% of the area is in highveld savanna, 28% in thornveld
savanna, 34% in semidesert and savanna transition zone, and 9% in the
central Namib Desert. In the Highlands a more or less dense bush
vegetation prevails. In the arid lower reaches there is a more limited
flora on the
Swakop River valley itself, with the typical gallery
vegetation from Ana Trees (Faidherbia albida), tamarisk (Tamarix),
camel thorn (Acacia erioloba), Salvadora, various fig species, Euclea
and also tobacco (
Nicotiana spp.), Jimsonweed (Datura) and mesquite
Prosopis spp.) as invasive species.
Wildlife in the Swakop is found practically only in sparsely populated
lower reaches and is limited to antelope, smaller predators and birds.
Big game such as elephants, rhinos, lions and other big cats are no
longer to be found. In the rest of the catchment area, there are,
however, a number of tourist and game farms, and the big cats are kept
Usage and colonisation
The farm of Goanikontes in Swakop River, circa 1906.
Unlike the rest of the dry rivers in western Namibia, there are large
human settlements in the basin of the Swakop River, such as the towns
Usakos, Karibib, Otjimbingwe,
Okahandja and Namibia's capital,
Windhoek, so that the population is in the catchment area is more than
While in the upper reaches of the river the farms are often far from
the river and extensive grazing is operated, the dams and the high
ground water level along the entire
Swakop River Valley make intensive
farming and even gardening, such as the cultivation of asparagus in
Swakopmund Goanikontes, possible.
The extensive use of the groundwater in agriculture and the high water
consumption in cities result in the lowering of the water table. This
leads, particularly in the lower reaches, to the drying up of many
springs as well as to the death of the gallery vegetation. Due to
agricultural practices, erosion has greatly increased, so that more
and more valuable ground is lost and the intensity of the Swakop
The uranium mines, such as the Langer Heinrich mine in the lower
reaches of the Swakop, and the Rössing Mine at Khan, not only use
enormous quantities of water that further lowers the water table. In
addition, it is also often claimed that radioactive dust across the
Khan gets into the Swakop, and therefore the vegetables cultivated
there are contaminated by radioactive materials.
The Swakop Bridge in
Swakopmund is a notable man made sight near the
place where the river empties into the ocean.
Peter J. Jacobson, Kathryn M. Jacobson, Mary K. Seely: Ephemeral
Rivers and Their Catchments – Sustaining People and Development in
Western Namibia. Desert Research Foundation of Namibia, 1995,
Klaus Hüser, Helga Besler, Wolf Dieter Blümel, Klaus Heine, Hartmut
Leser, Uwe Rust:
Namibia – Eine Landschaftskunde in Bildern. Klaus
Windhoek 2001, ISBN 978-3-933117-14-4
^ Malan, Johan S (1998). Die Völker Namibias [The Tribes of Namibia]
(in German). Windhoek, Göttingen: Klaus Hess.
^ "ELECTIONS 2010:
Erongo regional profile". New Era. 24 June
^ a b Uranium in groundwater 'not serious': Roessing - The Namibian,
Friday 24 June 2005
^ "Rössing in the
Erongo Region". Rössing Uranium Limited. Retrieved
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