Sporting Provinces of South Africa

From its establishment in 1910 until 1994, South Africa was a country created out of four political entities - the two former British colonies of the Cape and Natal, and the two Afrikaner republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. For sporting purposes, these were divided into smaller provinces.

Each province is distinct in its economy, geography, and history.  For example,  Transvaal was a densely populated and industrialized province. Its main centre was the city Johannesburg, with numerous big schools and municipal swimming pools. In contrast, the Orange Free State was a large and sparsely populated province with few large towns. The majority of Free State dorpies with one school in each - and an unheated municipal swimming pool. Many of those facilities are now dead pools. 

The geography of the sub-continent played a big role in the history of aquatic sports. The Pools and other Places - the swimming pools, rivers, beaches, dams - are defined by their location. Heated pools - and indoor pools -  were few and far between. The inland provinces were on the highveld, which is up to 1500m above sea level, and where winter temperatures dropped below freezing. Along the sub-tropical coast, the swimmers from Natal could train outdoors for most of the year 

Each province had its own education department, rooted in its particular history. The whole country, outside the cities, was largely Afrikaans speaking, while cities had more English schools. Notable exceptions were the wealthy rural English private schools found in Natal and the Eastern Cape. Aquatic sports are traditionally favoured by English schools, while Afrikaans schools dominate the rugby and netball rankings in 2020.

Inter-provincial aquatic sports competition was managed by the national governing body known as the South African Amateur Swimming Union (SAASU). School sports were governed separately. At the time of it's founding in 1899 the first member Provinces of SAASU just were Western Province and Eastern Province. The first national water polo championship event, known as the Currie Cup Tournament, was held at Port Elizabeth in 1900.

After the Boer War ended in 1902, more provinces began to join. The Orange River Colony (ORC), and Transvaal became members, although the Transvaal soon split into Northern and Southern Transvaal, with Eastern and Western Transvaal emerging later. The Vaal Triangle province was created in the 1970s. Mossel Bay and East London were represented and sending their own teams to the championships, although they later became part of Eastern Province and Border respectively.  The northern Cape city of Kimberley, home of Karen Muir, became the home of the Griqualand West province. Rhodesia was a province and South West Africa also competed as a province, until 1990. 

South African urban development started with Cape Town in 1652. In 2020 there are about 10 centres that  might be described as cities, with the vast majority of towns being small rural settlements. The towns generally had a one high school and often an 33,3 yard unheated outdoor  municipal swimming pool. Due to changes in demographics and municipal mismanagement, many of these schools and municipal swimming pools have become derelict and swimming is no longer a social activity.

See the map for the location of the schools and swimming pools.

Eastern Province

The main centre was Port Elizabeth, where the first South African championship was held in 1900. 

Western Province

Cape Town and its neighbouring towns like Stellenbosch, Paarl and Somerset West. The province stretched up to the west coast to the SWA border, and inland to the Orange river.


The sub-tropical climate gave Natal a big advantage over the inland provinces.


Johannesburg and environs.

Northern Transvaal

Pretoria up to the border.

Eastern Transvaal

From Germiston to the Mozambique border.

Western Transvaal

The mielieboere province, from Krugersdorp to Griqualand West.

Orange Free State

Bloemfontein and Kroonstad were the main centres for aquatic sports in the Free State.

Griqualand West

Kimberley was the centre of the province that lay between the Cape and the northern border. 


From 1920 to 1980, Rhodesians had a big impact on aquatic sports in southern Africa.

South West Africa

Windhoek was the only city in this large province.


East London, King Williams Town and a number of smaller towns boasting excellent schools.

Neighbouring Ttates

Portuguese Mozambique and Angola also played a part in the history of aquatic sports in southern Africa until 1976, and so again today.