Swimming is practised in various competitive and non-competitive formats. Click here to read more about the history of swimming. In southern Africa, competitive aquatic sports were started in the 19th century by the British at the Cape and in Natal. The Dutch colonists were not keen on organised sports.
Click here to see the map of swimming Pools and Places in South Africa where aquatic sports history was made.
The disciplines and arenas of swimming in South Africa:
2. Open Water
Since the early days of the Queens Park club in Durban (1893), the PE Amateur Club (1898) and other clubs from Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, South Africans have engaged in swimming races, and by 1909 SAASU had joined FINA..The earliest venues are shown on the Pools and Places article.The races were originally designed to amuse the audience, according to the English aquatic carnival tradition, including under water races, obstacle events. After the creation of SAASU and affiliation with FINA, the events became standardized. In southern Africa swimmers from Rhodesia, South West Africa and even Mozambique participated in local galas.
The Midmar Mile is the world's largest open water race, held annually near Pietermaritzburg. The oldest existing race is the Redhouse SC river mile, which has been run since in 1924. A mile race was once held in the Buffalo river in East London. New mile races are being introduced every year. Recently FINA has included a standard 10km open water event to its programme, which is also an Olympic event.
The most famous long distance in South Africa is the Robben Island crossing, first completed by Henry Hooper in 1909. Other swims around Cape Town include crossing of False Bay and around Cape Point.
The earliest clubs in South Africa were founded in Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. They were affiliated to the national governing body - South African Amateur Swimming Union (white) and SAASA (coloured). A national inter-club competition was started at the Old Edwardians club in Johannesburg during the 1970's, which still survives today, as a water polo tournament only.
Many schools in southern Africa boast their own swimming pool, with some now even expanding to two pools, due to the popularity of water polo. Most schools hold inter-house galas, and some participate in inter-schools events. The Transvaal high school gala at Ellis Park is a famous for its size and volume, while all provinces hold an annual inter-schools gala. An annual inter-provincial schools gala was held for both primary and high schools.
The annual inter-varsity gala was usually a social affair, with a full programme of swimming, diving and water polo - and synchro, after it was introduced in the 1970's. Harry Getz was instrumental in getting a South African team to the Interversaide in 1961 and 1963. Wits has a beautiful 50m pool, while Stellenbosch, Rhodes and UCT had smaller facilities. Tukkies also built a 50m pool, where the 1982 nationals was held
Private Learn to Swim schools represent the grassroots origins of swimming in South Africa. The hot summers is conducive to home swimming pool building, which created an early demand from swimming lessons.
While Natalie du Toit is undoubtedly the most famous disabled swimmer, many other disabled swimmers have participated in South Africa.Leg amputee Damon Kendrick was well known as a Western Province diver at nationals during the 1970's.
The American system of age group swimming was introduced in South Africa during 1963. Provincial bodies arranged a system of galas where children competed in age groups of 10 and under, 11/12, 13/14 and under 16. On one Saturday morning every month hundreds of children competed, with national records being kept for each distance. Results recorded in all types of pools - both yards and meters - over 25, 33, 50 and 55 illustrated the availability of suitable pools for swimming in those days.