King's Park Pool in the centre of Durban is a world-class facility. There's a 50m indoor pool and a sizeable outdoor diving pool where swimmers can train all year round. When you see the pool full of swimmers of all colours charging up and down the lanes, the scene here looks a fantastic success. But the reality is more complicated.
In Durban, race still defines whether or not you have a chance to become a competitive swimmer. If you look closely at the different swimming clubs using the lanes, you can quickly see that racial integration isn't a present reality. At the top end there are fit, young white swimmers properly equipped with fins, floats, costumes, hats and goggles swimming hard and fast sets. Next to them are the brown swimmers - the Indians - also well-equipped ploughing up and down their lanes with Indian coaches instructing them from the poolside. Then there are the black swimmers. Speedos are replaced by long shorts and t-shirts, there aren't the pool buoys or fins used by the other groups and the swimmers themselves turn up late because they've had such trouble reaching the pool without the support of parents with cars.
Over a decade after the end of apartheid, I was suprised to see such a marked racial divide in the water. But the South Africans I spoke to told me I shouldn't be shocked at how little things had changed, but encouraged by how much they had. Fourteen years ago, there would have been no non-white swimmers in the pool. For them, the Indian and black swimming squads represented nothing short of a swimming revolution in South Africa. The fact that Indian and black swimmers now train and compete with whites, despite their lack of funding and equipment, shows how much the sport has opened up.
I met Musa, a black coach from a township outside Durban. His squad of ten swimmers from the age of six to sixteen was training in front of me. He told me that they were only able to afford one session a week at King's Park because of the cost of hiring a minibus to ferry them there. The swimmers were obviously enthusiatic, but apart from the front two setting the pace, the others seemed to roll and amble slowly through the water. It was a marked contrast from the slickly tumble-turning white squad in the next lane.
"How do you pick them," I asked, "do you have trials in the townships? Do you pick the best swimmers?".
"No," he replied, "I pick the ones who want to swim, the ones who love it."
For Musa's swimmers, it didn't matter that some of them could barely manage a length without stopping. They were still the first generation in their families to have the opportunity to compete in the water.