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Swimming Pools in South Africa

Swimming pools, and competitive swimming, were introduced to southern Africa by the British during the 19th century. The dry dock in Cape Town harbour initially served as a venue for aquatic carnivals, before indoor pools were built in Camps Bay (1905), Lond Street and other suburbs of the city. Schools often also had their own pools. 

Port Elizabeth built a saltwater pool at Humewood in 1898, with Durban and East London also creating similar facilities.

Many towns built municipal Olympic size swimming pools during the 1950's and 60's, although few were heated and none covered.

The Sea Point salt water pools.

Olympic pools like Newlands and Durban's Beach Baths were important the history of aquatic sports in South Africa. Places where dramatic scenes unfolded before packed grand stands. The atmosphere of the annual South African national championships often depended on the venue.

Newlands swimming pool, with it's dramatic backdrop of Table Mountain, was an electric venue for world records, relay races between rival provinces and tense final night water polo matches for the Currie Cup.

From 1976 nationals were televised by the SABC, which resulted in an even more dramatic stage with added floodlights introduced for the cameras. 

A short history of swimming pools in southern Africa

Read more about Pools and Places here.

Swimming pools are difficult and expensive to built and maintain. In southern Africa early swimming pools were built next to the ocean, and filled with pumped sea water. The dry dock in Table Bay harbour was sometimes filled and used for aquatic carnivals - probably at considerable expense.

South Africa has never enjoyed the wealth of European countries like Britain and the Netherlands, where elaborate indoor swimming pools are the norm. 

The earliest swimming spaces in southern Africa are probably the tidal pools found along the coast. The early Dutch/German settlers seemed to have no appetite for building swimming pools, but when the British brought their love for organised sports to the Cape in 1795 they soon built swimming pools similar to those found in England. The indoor pool on Camps Bay beach was an example a private pools built for commercial purposes. 

South African and Rhodesian municipalities have been building and maintaining pools since the early 20th century, such as the saltwater pool at Humewood  Beach, Port Elizabeth in 1913. These pools were of varying dimensions, such as the 9 lane Newton Park pool and the Rachael Finlayson Beach Baths in Durban which was 100 yards long. The Long Street indoor baths were 33,3 yards, before being converted to 25 meters. 

In Portuguese  Mozambique  and Angola swimming pools were often provided by the large companies to their employees. 

By the 1950's the pools were a mix of lengths, with 55 yards also being common. Grey High School in Port Elizabeth built a 7 lane 55 yard pool in 1956. 

In 1957 FINA had decreed that world records could only be set in 50 metre or 55 yard length pools, and by January of 1969 they only recognised records set in 50 metre pools. In 1959, the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa agreed to adopt the international yard of exactly 0.9144 meters.

When Karen Muir broke two world records for the 440 yards Individual Medley at the SA Championships at Kimberley in 1969, neither were ever recognised as world records. 

Many swimming pools were private facilities, owned or run by private clubs, corporate recreational facilities for employees, military bases and large hospitals, schools and more. 

Today many of the swimming pools in southern Africa have become dead pools.Click here to see the Swim history map of southern Africa and zoom in to see the black dots which are all dead pools. 

The 50m Borrow Street Municipal Baths, Bulawayo, Rhodesia.