Isopach asymmetry, and sediment component changes in DSDP cores from the SE Atlantic (Orange Basin) support the hypothesis of major drainage system changes in SW Africa during late Cretaceous—Cenozoic time. This involved alternations in the use of the 28°S (modern Orange River) and 31°S (modern Olifants River) exit points across the western escarpment by rivers carrying run-off from the Upper Orange/Vaal catchment areas, as well as radical re-organizations of internal drainage geometry. It is postulated that during late Cretaceous times the 28°S exit was used, with the Middle Orange River following a course in the interior well to the south (up to 150 km) of its modern channel. Sediment discharge rates from this river were relatively high (at least 10 × 106 m3 yr−1), and resulted in rapid advancement of the continental margin sediment prism west of the mouth by large-scale slumping. The Palaeogene Orange/Vaal river exit was via the 31°S escarpment crossing, and during the later part of this period, the Cape Canyon was cut across the continental shelf and slope. A significant reduction in sediment discharge (to 2.0 × 106 m3 yr−1) suggests that the Lower Tertiary climate for SW Africa was drier than that of late Cretaceous times. However, aridity did not commence until late Miocene times, when the Orange/Vaal discharge had switched back to the 28°S exit. Modern sediment discharge rates (6.5 × 106 m3 yr−1) are relatively high and reflect soil erosion caused by agricultural activity.
The two major alterations in exit point of the Orange/Vaal (late Cretaceous—early Tertiary, and late Oligocene—early Miocene) are related to periods of low sea level, which promoted river capture adjacent to the western escarpment. An additional factor in the first course change may have been the disruption of the Middle Orange channel by late Cretaceous igneous intrusions. Less important internal reorganizations of the drainage system are postulated in late Miocene—Pleistocene times. Economic implications for offshore diamond distribution are briefly mentioned.