Rivers in aquatic sports

Rivers play a minor role in the aquatic sports history of southern Africa, although some of the earliest aquatic sports events took place in rivers. The British colonisers brought with them a fondness for gambling, which in England often resulted in swimming races held in rivers and the ocean - and they did the same in southern Africa. 

The dry climate in most of southern Africa inhibits the existence of large rivers suitable for aquatic sports activities. The few large rivers include the Orange and Vaal rivers which flow westwards to the Atlantic, mostly through farmland. In the east of the country the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers flow to the Indian ocean. Eastward flowing rivers are crocodile infested, although that did not always stop the sports. Rhodesians were  known for swimming races across the crocodile infested waters of lake Kariba.

The early history of aquatic sports in Rhodesia records that: The first aquatic meeting in Rhodesia was held in Salisbury in March 1891, and the Makabusi river. During a much needed rest at the Makabusi River, Major Johnson scaled a nearby kopje to see how far they were from Mt Hampden.

The Makabusi river was to play a key role in the history of Rhodesia, as it was the location of it's capital, established on 13 September 1890. when a decision was made to select the spot on the Makabusi and to call the site Salisbury.


The oldest existing river race in South Africa is the River Mile held at Redhouse in the Swartkops river near Port Elizabeth since 1927. In recent years the Mile has been moved to the nearby Sundays river, due to high levels of pollution in the Swartkops.
Below is a photo from 1895 - taken in Redhouse.


Karin Pretorius of Northern Transvaal who the 1958 South African Half-Mile Championship in the Vaal river, as well as the half-mile champion in the Buffalo River at East London.

Eastern Province swimmers at the Buffalo Mile - Springbok Brian Elliot Helen, his sister Helen Elliot, Alan Cooper, Ian Walter and Paul Nance. They were all members of the Baracuda SC and coached by Peter Elliot in Port Elizabeth.


The small resort town of Parys lies on the Orange Free State side of the Vaal river. The completion of the railway sideline to Parys in 1905 meant that Parys had suddenly become more accessible to the public and this in turn led to the growth of the town as a holiday resort and industrial centre. The town was now being marketed as The Pride of the Vaal and city dwellers flocked by train to the lush green river banks and special swimming facilities and accommodation provided by the Village Management Board of the time.

On the 12th December 1967 Don Shepherd of Johannesburg set off to swim the length of the Vaal river from Standerton to Vereeniging. Shepherd was already famous: On 12 May 1964 Don Shepherd, a 48-year-old gold miner Johannesburg, set out from the Los Angeles City Hall to begin a solo coast-to-coast run across America. At the time, this was the longest run in the world by an amateur runner. Just like his swim later on, he did the run without support.


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