Swim For Rivers In South Africa
Courtesy of Catherine Ritchie, Bronkhorstspruit River, Gauteng, South Africa.
Growing up on a Free State farm in South Africa, Andrew Chin learned the value of water – and its impact on survival – at a young age. Early in his career he worked in rural development, where he experienced first-hand filling up and carrying barrels to supply a project base camp with fresh water. This experience cemented his respect for water as a precious natural resource and ignited his passion to do something to raise critical awareness about the importance of river health.
On February 9th, Chin joined Dr. Mandy Uys and Joy Roach from East London to do a 10 km tandem swim of the Bronkhorstspruit River in Gauteng between Bronkhorstspruit and the Premier Mine Dam in South Africa.
Their effort was part of the broader Swim for Rivers campaign to raise awareness around the poor state of South Africa’s rivers and to highlight the urgent need to restore them.
The swimmers had originally planned to tackle a 50-60 km stretch of the Wilge River in Gauteng; however, after communication with farmers in the area, these plans were scrapped due to the severely polluted state of the river. The Wilge River carries high levels of faecal coliform in the water – including e.coli – due to runoff from the many farms, mines, and residential areas it flows through.
Although reluctant to compromise, the athletes decided to swim a cleaner section of the Wilge’s main tributary – the Bronkhorstspruit – to limit their exposure to significant health risks.
The swimmers set off from the Bronkhorstspruit Dam wall, accompanied by a support crew of paddlers. While most of the route was swimmable, there were definite signs of human pollution along the way. Chin explained, “This swim marked the sixth event of the Swim for Rivers extreme swimming challenge that was launched in 2015. The challenge involves athletes attempting to swim a distance of up to 350 km in a major river in each of South Africa’s nine provinces. The swims aim to spark debate about what the authorities and public can and should be doing to save our life-giving rivers.”
As part of their river health awareness weekend, the group participated in a World Wetlands Day cleanup of the Hennop’s River in Centurion, at an event coordinated by Fresh.NGO action group.
The 2020 Swim for Rivers was sponsored by the 8 Mile Club and friends of Chin, and was supported by the Bronkhorstpruit Catchment Forum, Impact Adventure Africa and Media Ventures.
Swim for Rivers is an initiative of Rivers for Life, a non-profit organization established by Cape Town-based swimmer Andrew Chin. The initiative involves open water swimmers taking on South Africa’s rivers over a number of years – and one province at a time – in an extreme challenge to highlight the plight of our rivers and the crisis South Africa faces with the degraded state of its waterways.
History of the Swim for Rivers:
In January 2015, Chin and Toks Viviers swam 200 km in the Wilge River in the Free State over a period of 10 days.
In October 2015, Chin took to the rivers again, along with fellow swimmer Henko Roukema, on the Berg River in the Western Cape. However highwater pollution levels and exceptionally low flows forced them to abandon their quest to swim after just a few days. Their goal had been to swim the river from source to sea, but the polluted water caused such illness in the team that they were forced to call off the swim after completing 135 km of the river’s 294 km length.
In 2016 Chin partnered with Mandy Uys to swim a 70 km section of the Orange River in the Northern Cape and to interact with over 1,000 school pupils along the way.
The 2017, Chin was joined by Mandy Uys, Joy Stevens, Sean Murray and Nicky van Nierop in the Eastern Cape with a focus on estuaries as the critical link between the freshwater rivers and the sea.
In 2018 Chin completed his fifth Swim for Rivers challenge on the Mtamvuna River in KZN. He swam a distance of 70 km, solo, over a period of 6 days and finished at the mouth near Port Edward. Along the way, Chin experienced a relatively clean river with low human impact, however he observed significant soil erosion on some of the riverbanks from livestock overgrazing, as well as widespread invasive alien vegetation.
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