To some, the town’s name originates from the Khoi word, ‘gagamas’ (brown), referring to the red clay of the area with which women daub their faces. To most, though, Kakamas is a Koranna word meaning ‘poor pasture’ and ‘vicious, charging ox’.
Legend has it that grazing in the vicinity was poor and, when cattle were driven through the river’s drifts, some turned on their drivers. Today, the name reflects poorly on a fertile valley in the Lower Orange River, graced with vineyards, cotton and lucerne fields.
The drought of 1895-97 was followed by an outbreak of rinderpest, leaving many farmers destitute. Knysna’s Dutch Reformed Church minister, BPJ Marchand, sometimes called the father of Kakamas, played a leading role in saving people from ruin. The river islands of Marchand, Zoetap and Neus became a labour colony for the poor.
So successful were their farming ventures that full title to the land was granted them. In 1930, the church divided an area in central Kakamas into 40 residential plots.This was the beginning of Kakamas township. Cultivating grapes for raisins began in 1960 and table grapes in 1980. Today, they are exported worldwide.