Skip to main content

Aquatic Sports History of southern Africa

The history of swimming and related sports in South Africa, Rhodesia, and South West Africa from 1900 to 2000 and beyond. 

The British Empire established a base in the Cape Colony in 1806, to keep Napoleon at bay and to control the Far East trade routes around Africa. The transplanted British colonists imported their culture and norms, including a love for water sports, encouraged locally by the hot Cape summer weather. Sports clubs were established for water polo, swimming, diving and lifesaving activities.

Water festivals held in the Cape Town dry dock were popular entertainment for the Victorians. They also swam and played in rivers and dams and oceans, and built tidal pools and indoor swimming pools. Betting also played a big part in promoting sporting events. When Charteris Hooper became the first man to swim from Robben Island in 1909, he did it to win a bet.

The South African Amateur Swimming Union, with the Western Province and Eastern Province as its founder members, was established in Port Elizabeth, during the Boer War. After the war, the Swimming Union expanded to all parts of the country and Rhodesia. 

The youngest person to break senior world record

On the 10th of August, 1965, Karen Muir became  the youngest world record holder any time in any sport when she set a new world record in the women's 110-yard backstroke.

At 12 years, 10 months, and 25 days old, swimming in the junior section of the British Swimming Championships in Blackpool, England - because she was too young to compete with the older girls in the open category!

The girl from Kimberley in the Cape had only been swimming for three years, under the guidance of an imported British coach named Frank Gray.


The various categories of Champions: World record-holders; Olympic, World, or Commonwealth medalists, International stars, Paralympic champions and those who chose to stay  - the Local Heroes, while many went into exile to compete abroad.  

Aquatic Sports

The history of swimming-related recreational and competitive water sports in southern Africa.

Water festivals included swimming, diving, water polo matches and "fancy swimming", while lifesaving competitions ensured the competence of those responsible for preventing drownings. Swimming-based multisports, like triathlons, are related modern aquatic sports.

South African National Championships

The first championship held by the SAASU was held at Port Elizabeth in 1900. The main event was a water polo competition between Western Province and Eastern Province. The prize was one of the trophies donated by Sir Donald Currie for 

Pools and other Places

Locations where people swim. The dams, rivers, oceans, tidal pools, swimming pools - school pools, municipal pools, club pools, dead pools and all the other places where aquatic sports history is made.

Click the arrow on the left to set 10 different categories of pools and places.

Click the square on the right to view the full size map.