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By Marizka Coetzer


It is vital that children learn to swim – instructor after tragic drownings

Swimming instructor Duane Seymore emphasises the risk of drowning, urging better access to swimming lessons.

S wimming instructor Duane Seymore says being able to swim isn’t a guarantee that you will not drown.

“Even if you can swim, people have drowned in the Midmar Mile. It is easy to drown,” he said.

Seymore said there was a history beyond apartheid regarding the culture of not being able to swim.

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“This is changing but keep in mind that swimming lessons are not cheap. It is expensive to maintain swimming pools and it is not available to everyone. The public swimming pools are also going for a walk,” he said.

Seymore said there should be more public swimming pools. “People don’t realise how important supervision or lifeguarding is.

Anyone can drown

Water is life-threatening, even people who can swim well can drown. Supervision is the biggest measure when it comes to water and swimming.

“For example, you can teach a child to ride a bicycle, but you wouldn’t want the child to ride themself to school. Even if children can swim, they do funny things in a pool, so parental supervision is very important,” he said.

The general manager of Lifesaving South Africa, Helen Herbert, said the lack of access to swimming pools and swimming lessons is a major historical reason why fewer black people learn to swim.

“In today’s crumbling municipal infrastructure, the lack of easily available, safe, swimming facilities within the low-income suburbs is limited,” she said.

“This is being addressed slowly throughout the country but remains below what is needed. Many existing facilities have been neglected for too many years.”

Herbert said only a few government-funded urban schools in low-income areas have operational swimming pools.

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“Schools that had swimming pools were mainly in mid- to high-income areas, the private or the old model C schools.

“Access to swimming is far more accessible in today’s world, with many swim schools and swim clubs in urban areas. But they cost money which, for the greater population, may be difficult to pay. Municipalities have a greater number of people learning to swim where there are functioning municipal pools.”

Herbert said swimming lessons should not only be for the privileged. Irrespective of their demographic, they should be for everyone.

Pearl Ramashala from Centurion said as a black person she didn’t grow up near swimming pools. “I only learned to swim at the age of 30 when I had my own children.

I sent them to a swimming school because they needed to learn. If you want to go to Durban or places with pools, you want your children to swim and be safe. I never had that opportunity.

Changing historical narratives

“The narrative that blacks cannot swim is changing. If you look at the past few years, black people are now buying houses with swimming pools because they can afford them now.

“Most people don’t have the privilege of a swimming pool in their backyards. White people have always had the privilege of exposing their kids to swimming pools and holidays on the beach,” she explained.

Ramashala said most black people were disadvantaged in this way while many whites had that privilege.

“There’s so much history behind that. If I think about the people I grew up with, I don’t know how many of them can swim now,” she said.

Ramashala said it was odd to go to swimming lessons as an adult. Ofentse Nkosi, 29, from Mamelodi said he could not swim at all. He said his parents also could not swim.

“My younger sibling can swim, she learned to swim at the public pool at Mamelodi West,” he explained.

Nkosi said he was still afraid of drowning. “I would consider trying to learn [to swim] again,” he said.

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