Today, after a month in the city, I'm leaving Cape Town for the warmer waters of Durban. It's been an interesting few weeks, but very different to how I'd planned this trip. Whereas I thought I'd be mixing with swimmers from all communities, I've found a much more divided society. I've learnt that swimming here is still very much a segregated sport.
At one of the spectrum is Gary's Swim Squad and the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association. I've been swimming with Gary's squad for the past few weeks - dragging myself out of bed at 5am to throw myself into the luxuriously heated open air pool at a private boys school here. It's a fantastic squad and I feel priviledged to train with them. Excluding me, they can count among them 18 Robben Island crossings and several Channel swims. They're dedicated, enthusiastic and encouraging and I'm sure if there were good black swimmers who wanted to join them, they would be very welcome.
The same goes with the Long Distance Association which organises the long-distance swims around Cape Town. It's a very friendly bunch of people all crazy about being in the open ocean - again welcoming to all that are interested.
But the problem facing promising young black swimmers in Cape Town is an economic one. Most black children live in townships outside the main city, without reliable public transport to get them to and from training. For most of them, swimming in the heated pool in one of Cape Town's most affluent areas would be as alien to them as visiting London to swim. How would they afford the class fees, the necessary costume, googles and other props needed to train? How would they be able to enter this world without economic and social support behind them?
There are a couple of pools actually in the townships and this is where promising black swimmers are currently training. But these become overcrowded very quickly. I visited one pool in Khayelitsha - a sprawling shanty town of tin huts and dirt roads half an hour outside Cape Town that houses a million and half black South Africans. Here the guards told me it wasn't uncommon to get crowds of over 3,000 kids in the summer. They've tried closing the gates, but the children just jump over them to get into the water. This has lead to several accidents and drownings which in turn has had an effect on swimming education in schools.
I met the principle of Luleka Primary School in Khayelitsha - Abraham Sonti. Abraham told me that he'd like to get all of his 1,381 students into the pool at least once a week. But after several children drowned, he now had to permission from every parent before taking the pupils to the pool. Many parents can't read or write themselves and these letters often go unanswered. Abraham felt he wasn't able to get past the red tape and because of this, most of his students still don't know how to swim.
But there is hope for young swimmers. The South African government gives money to swimming projects and is funding a national Learn to Swim programme. I saw the most promising results of this project in the coloured community in Cape Town. I met swimming teaching Ray Beste who teaches coloured children in a small, indoor pool at the back of her house. She likes to get them in the water young, before they're one, so they can get a feel for the water. With government funding, she buses in local school children and, in the summer, even travels to rural communities to teach there. But she believes until Cape Town builds more indoor swimming pools that can be used all year round, many children still wont get the opportunity to learn.