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In Numbers

The Southern Drakensberg is a trans-boundary water source area that straddles KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho. It supplies water to Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Port Shepstone.

Size: 2 049 626 ha

The Southern Drakensberg is South Africa’s largest water source area. It spans 2 049 626 hectares.

Main Rivers

Main rivers that flow from the Southern Drakensberg include the uMgeni, Thukela, Mooi and uMzimkulu. Free-flowing rivers that flow from this water source area include the Mtamvuna, Mkomazi, Mzimkhulu and Nsonge.

Did You Know?

  • The longest free-flowing river, the Mkomazi, starts at this water source area.
  • South Africa’s three highest mountains – Mafadi, Njesethu and Champaign Castle – are found within this water source area.
  • The uMgeni Vlei (recently declared a Ramsar Site) falls within this water source area.
  • The Midmar Dam, within this water source area, hosts the world’s largest open water swimming event, the Midmar Mile, with over 20 000 participants recorded in 2009


Land Use (in %)

  • Mining 0.00%
  • Wetlands 2.49%
  • Urban 6.39%
  • Cultivation (irrigated) 1.85%
  • Waterbodies 0.55%
  • Plantation/Woodlot 15.22%
  • Cultivation (dryland) 12.66%
  • Natural 60.84%

14% Protected Areas

Over 30 provincial nature reserves fall within this water source area. This includes Karkloof Nature Reserve, Midmar Nature Reserve, UKhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Site and Qudeni Forest Reserve. Nevertheless, only 14% of the Southern Drakensberg water source area is protected.

  • > 30

Threat Status

  • River Ecosystems
  • Wetland Ecosystems

River Ecosystems

Approximately 60% of this water source area is in natural condition.

  • 22% Endangered
  • 69% Vulnerable
  • 9% Least Threatened

Wetland Ecosystems

Up to 22% of wetland ecosystems are critically endangered and 45% are endangered.

  • 22% Critically Endangered
  • 45% Endangered
  • 33% Least Threatened


The Southern Drakensberg water source area is vast, with mixed land-use and land-ownership including 14.5% under cultivation, 15.2% plantations and 6.39% urban. What category of protection in the Protected Areas Act is well suited to areas with mixed agricultural, forestry and urban landscapes as well as mixed public-private land ownership?

Interactive Map

South Africa has 22 water source areas spread across five provinces (KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Limpopo). The total size of our water source areas is 12.32 million hectares. A number of these areas extend and are shared with Lesotho and Swaziland; approximately 1.91 million hectares in Lesotho and 0.93 million hectares in Swaziland.

The total volume of water supplied by these areas per year is approximately 2 457 million cubic metres. The greatest volume of recharge is generated by the Southern Drakensberg, followed by the Eastern Cape Drakensberg and the Boland Mountains.