The first era of competitive inter-provincial aquatic sports in South Africa began with the establishment of the South African Amateur Swimming Union (SAASU) in 1899, and ended with the beginning of World War I. SAASU established the annual national event, featuring a water polo tournament for the Currie Cup, and one swimming CHampionship over 500yards. At first, there were only two members - the Eastern Province and Western Province of the Cape Colony - at the first nationals held in Port Elizabeth in January 1900.
In time other provinces and centres joined the Union and send teams to nationals. The first to join after the Boer War ended was the newly annexed Transvaal Colony, Natal, and the Orange River Colony. East London, Mossel Bay and Kimberley joined as separate centres. Later the Cape and Transvaal provinces would divide, to form more provinces, after Rhodesia joined in 1920.
Besides the swimming race and water polo, lifesaving was a well established and organized aquatic activity, managed by the Royal Lifesaving Society in England and its worldwide network of centres. The national championships event lasted a few days, arranged as a carnival, to attract paying spectators. Much of the SAASU management effort was spent on the finances of the annual event, which raised funds to defray the travel and accommodations of all competitors.