The Vaal River is the largest tributary of the Orange River, with it’s source at Sterkfontein in the Drakesberg mountains. It flows 1210km in a westerly direction until it’s conjunction with the Orange River near Douglas in the Northern Cape. It is a plateau river and occupies a shallow bed. Most of the year the flow is minimal, but the winter months can create the muddy torrent for which the Vaal (meaning gray-brown) is named. The Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan area and a large part of the Free State province’s water for industrial needs, is drawn from the river. It is a great source of water as part of the Vaal-Hartz Scheme. 12 Million consumers in Gauteng and the surrounding area’s water is drawn from the Vaal. The river also forms the borders between the North West Province, Mpumalanga and Gauteng on it’s north bank and the Free State on it’s south bank.
There are many islands over a distance of several hundred kilometres from Lindeque’s Drift down stream as far as Christiana. There are dense networks of islands in three places, namely, Parys, Dood’s Drift and Christiana. Groot Eiland, the biggest island with an area of about 180 acres, is situated just below Parys. A variety of wild trees grow on the islands, and the past many farmers ploughed the islands to grow crops or used them for grazing.
The Vaal River Island Treaty was signed by President Paul Kruger on the 12th March 1895 and by Acting President Blignaut of the Orange Free State on the 22nd April 1895. This treaty was necessary since the farmers from the Transvaal and Orange Free State were in dispute over the land ownership of the islands. Some people felt that the islands belonged to the state closest to the island while others believed that since the islands were in the river, which formed the border, they belonged to everyone. The treaty solved this problem. In the treaty it was agreed that the two banks of the Vaal River would be the boundary, except at Parys and Christiana where the boundary would be as indicated on the maps attached to the treaty. According to the division agreed upon by the Commissions of the treaty, the Transvaal was allotted 101 islands with an area of 435 acres and the Free State received 94 islands with an area of 311 acres.