Inventions that hail from our home soil

Here are some clever inventions that became worldwide household names that hail from here.

First heart transplant

The world’s first heart transplant was performed by Dr Chris Barnard in Cape Town on 3 December 1967. After performing the first successful kidney transplant on Edith Black, in October 1967 Barnard informed Professor Val Schrire, who had built up the cardiac clinic: “Everything is ready for a heart transplant. We have the team and we know how to do it.”

The CAT scan

The CAT scan or computed axial tomography scan, (CT) was invented in 1972 by South Africa-born physicist Allan Cormack of Tufts University, Massachusetts and British engineer Godfrey Hounsfield of EMI Laboratories, England. Cormack and Hounsfield were later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their contributions to medicine and science.

CAT Scan machine in Radiology room

Oil from coal

Sasol is the world’s first – and largest – oil-from-coal refinery. It is situated in Sasolburg in South Africa and provides 40% of SA’s fuel.

Because SA did not have crude oil reserves, the country had to be protected against increasing crude oil imports. After many years of research and international negotiations, the South African Coal Oil and Gas Corporation was formed in 1950.

Major milestones include the first automotive fuel in 1955 and the construction of the National Petroleum Refiners of South Africa in 1967. Sasol has developed world-leading technology for the conversion of low-grade coal into value-added synfuels and chemicals.


Speed gun

In 1992 South African inventor Henri Johnson invented the Speedball which accurately measures the speed and angles of speeding objects such as cricket and tennis balls. The speed gun was formally launched at The Oval in England during the 1999 Cricket World Cup.

speed gun

Kreepy Krauly

The swimming pool vacuum cleaner was invented by Ferdinand Chauvier, a hydraulics engineer who came to South Africa from the Belgian Congo in 1951. Chauvier quickly realised that there was a huge market for taking the hassle out of cleaning swimming pools, and went about inventing a machine that would do the job automatically, efficiently powered by the ordinary operation of the pool’s filter. But it wasn’t until 1974 that the first Kreepy Krauly was born in Chauvier’s Springs home. He died in 1985, but Kreepy Kraulys continue to keep thousands of pools clean in South Africa and the world over.

Pratley Putty

Pratley’s famous glue is the only South African invention that has been to the moon. In 1969 the putty was used to hold bits of the Apollo 11 mission’s Eagle landing craft together. Krugersdorp engineer George Pratley invented his famous sticky stuff in the 1960s while looking for a glue that would hold components in an electrical box. Pratley died in 1983 and today the company is run by his son, Kim. Hundreds of tons of Pratley putty have been exported all over the world, and the company has diversified into other products.



Dolosse are large concrete blocks weighing up to 30 tons that are used across the globe to break up wave action. They were the invention of East London harbour engineer Eric Merrifield after a storm ripped into the Eastern Cape coast of South Africa in 1963 and tore off 60% of East London harbour’s armour.

The Coega Project, comprising an industrial development complex and deepwater port 20 kilometres east of the city of Port Elizabeth, made history with the casting of the biggest dolosse on the African continent: 26 500 30-ton dolosse are used on the two breakwaters for the deep-water harbour of Ngqura.

nog dolos

Pics: Corbis

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