The small town of Kakamas was built on the sheer hard work and determination of a couple of impoverished stock farmers at the end of the 19th century. The drought of 1895–97 was followed by an outbreak of rinderpest, leaving many farmers destitute.
Ignoring the criticism of qualified engineers about their building methods, the farmers continued to construct the water canals by hand that are still used today to supply the town and surrounding area with water for irrigation. For their efforts, they were each awarded the right to one of the irrigation plots. The men worked extremely hard even taking the yoke themselves, rather than wasting precious time in launching a time-consuming search for oxen and donkeys grazing somewhere in the veld.
The exceptional dry piling of the stone along rocky slopes can still be seen today. By dry piling instead of excavating through rock, the farmers were able to cut the overall costs of the canals considerably.
The ingenuity of the workers under the leadership of Japie Lutz is aptly demonstrated in the workmanship at the water tunnels in the northern canal. Mr Piet Burger perfected the water wheel that was widely used in Kakamas. This pumping device almost led to a court case about patent rights, when a blacksmith who used to live in Kakamas registered the patent in 1922.
The Commission that ran the "colony" planned ahead and in 1912 building operations on a hydro-electric power station and turbine in the northern canal were started. Ultimately the power station, built to look like an Egyptian temple, generated enough electricity that Kakamas liaised with Upington about the possibility of supplying Upington with electricity as well.