Medallist makes a splash
Cameron van der Burgh, the University of Pretoria commerce student who won gold in the 100m breaststroke at the London Olympics, has started a campaign to teach previously disadvantaged children at primary schools to swim.
He is convinced that black people can swim and win medals if exposed to the sport from a very early age. Van der Burgh was so impressed by the United States’s Cullen Jones, an African-American who won a silver medal in the men’s 50m freestyle final at the London Olympics, that he has been inspired to help previously disadvantaged children in South Africa to learn to swim and win medals. “Everywhere I go people ask why don’t we have black people swimming at major international competitions in South Africa. We just have to expose black children to the sport at a very early age,” said Van der Burgh. He believes that South Africa has an abundance of sporting talent, and that this includes youngsters who will excel in swimming.
There is enough talent
He will be visiting schools over the next few months to introduce pupils to swimming. The lack of facilities is a major challenge but the programme will use swimming pools close to the pupils’ homes. Van der Burgh will also donate swimming equipment.
He has no doubt that the programme will produce top swimmers who will contribute to the success of South Africa at major continental and global competitions.
He is so determined to make his campaign a reality that he has taken it to Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalula, who has promised to secure funds to develop swimming, acknowledging that South Africa will not win more medals at the Olympics unless more money is invested in sports.
More resources into schools
To succeed, more resources need to be channelled into schools, particularly those in previously disadvantaged communities. Thabang Moeketsane, one of the most successful black South African swimmers, said he was encouraged to hear that Van der Burgh wants to help in the development of swimming in black residential areas. “Anybody who talks about helping black people learn to swim will always get my support. We have to get rid of the myth that black people can’t swim. The problem is that we do not have facilities in black residential areas but that does not mean we can’t compete in the sport. “There are gyms in the suburbs with Olympic-sized swimming pools that top swimmers like Cameron and Chad le Clos use to prepare for big competitions,” said Moeketsane, who started as a life guard at Moletsane swimming pool in Soweto.
Mbalula is working on a project to refurbish pools in the townships because he wants to see more black people doing well in swimming. Van den Burgh’s project to teach young black children how to swim has impressed Mbalula, especially because it complements the pool-refurbishing project in areas like Gugulethu and other townships. Mbalula is upset that the Gugulethu swimming pool is currently being used as a facility to host parties at which people consume a lot of alcohol. The department of sport and recreation is encouraging municipalities to look after their swimming pools and to stop equipment from being stolen on a daily basis. Mbalula suggests hiring security guards to ensure the pools are safe 24 hours a day.
‘My dream is to see swimming in schools’
Jace Naidoo, Swimming South Africa (SSA) president, said the support for the development of swimming from Mbalula’s office has encouraged SSA. Naidoo’s dream is to see swimming introduced at schools in Soweto, Seshego, Mahikeng, Mhluzi, Katlehong and other previously disadvantaged areas. “We have been knocking on doors from one office to the other in search of sponsorship without any joy, but the successes of Cameron and Chad have definitely opened doors for us. It was good to hear Cameron say he wants to help develop the sport,” said Naidoo. SSA has a development programme, “learn to swim”. In partnership with the Gauteng MEC of sport, arts, culture and recreation, Lebogang Maile, SSA is gradually introducing swimming to pupils in the province. With Van der Burgh’s involvement in the learn to swim project South Africa will hopefully soon start producing top swimmers in the villages and townships.