The South Africa national aquatic sports championships can the divided into the following eras. The nationals started in at Cape Town 1900, and continued until SAASU
was disbanded in 1991. The event was suspended during both world wars, although a women and junior event was held in 1942. In 1992 SAASU was replaced by a new national governing body known as Swimming South Africa.
The first few years of the tournament featured teams from the two main provinces of the Cape Colony. The Eastern Province was based in Port Elizabeth, the main commercial centre of the colony. The Western Province was centred in Cape Town.
As the tournament expanded, a team from the Transvaal joined in 1905, Natal and the Orange River Colony followed. Rhodesia was a competing province from 1920 until 1980. Smaller centres like South West Africa, Mossel Bay and East London, which later became the Border province, also participated. In time the Transvaal split into four separate provinces, and later a small province of the Vaal Triangle was created between the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.Provinces
selected teams from local swimming clubs
, like the Cape Town Swimming Club, Green and Sea Point Amateur Swimming Club, Leanders SC, Suburbans SC in Cape Town. In Port Elizabeth there was the Port Elizabeth Amateur Swimming Club, established in 1898 and still going strong today. There were also clubs at Red House and Uitenhage. Queens Park in Durban is the oldest extant club in that province.
The event developed from the 19th century aquatic carnival style of entertainment which drew large crowds and were supported by the upper levels of society. Women participated but did not compete in Championship events until 1921. Water polo was the main competitive sport
at the championships, with very swimming races initially. They were shows that would often include clown diving, synchronized swimming and life-saving exhibitions performed by the swimmers themselves, to entertain the crowds who had bought tickets to the event.
The Ellis Brown trophy was awarded to the team with the highest number of points from all disciplines combined, and later many trophies
would be added for different events.