Kalahari Desert

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Kalahari Desert


a depression in south-central Africa, coinciding with the Kalahari syneclise of the African platform; located in the territory of Angola, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Southern Rhodesia, and the Republic of South Africa.

The Kalahari Desert is bordered on the east and west by steplike plateaus and horst-block ridges; on the north, by the Congo-Zambezi divide; and on the south, by the Orange River. From north to south the Kalahari is about 2, 000 km long; its width, east to west, is more than 1, 200 km. Elevation, 900–1,000 m; area, about 630, 000 sq km. The plains of the Kalahari are covered with sands, which form gently sloping dunes. There are many salt bottoms (pans or vlei) in the dry riverbeds and sinkholes. The climate is tropical (subequatorial north of the Zambezi). Rain falls in the summer. The amount of precipitation and the length of the wet season diminish moving from the northeast and north (1,000 mm, seven months) toward the southwest and south (150 mm, sporadic precipitation, often in the form of thunderstorms). Mean summer temperatures are 24°–26°C; winter temperatures are 12°–18°C; frosts occur to the south of the tropical zone.

The Kalahari is a region with poorly developed internal drainage; only in the north and south is it cut by rivers (the Zambezi and the Orange). The largest internal drainage system is the Okavango River, which feeds into the Okavango Swamp, from which an irregular flow proceeds to the Makarikari salt pans and, very rarely, to the Zambezi. The northernmost, and wettest, part of the Kalahari, which is crossed by tributaries of the Zambezi, is covered by thin forest (leafless in the dry season) growing on reddish chestnut laterized soils. In the valleys of the Okavango and the Zambezi there are parklike savannas with acacia, spurges, and baobab trees growing on red-brown soils. There are tropical swamps in the flood plains and delta of the Okavango. There are desolate tree-brush savannas south of 20°S lat., on the gently arching Bakalahari uplift. In the southwest and south there are semideserts and deserts, with dunes up to 100 m high that are held in place by succulent brush and subshrubs. The fauna of the Kalahari belongs to the South African subregion of the Ethiopian zoogeographical region and is kept primarily in the Etosha Game Reserve in Namibia and in the Kalahari Gems-bok National Park in the Republic of South Africa.

The population of the Kalahari is made up mostly of Bushmen (population density, less than one person per sq km), whose primary occupations are hunting and gathering. In the southern part of the Kalahari (in the Republic of South Africa) there is commercial livestock raising, and irrigation farming is carried on in certain centers.


Wellington, J. H. Southern Africa: A Geographical Study, vols. 1–2.Cambridge, 1955.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.