On Sunday, 9 February in Cape Town, open water swimmer Andrew Chin — along with fellow athletes Dr Mandy Uys and Joy Roach from East London — swam a 10km stretch of the Bronkhorstspruit River in Gauteng, between Bronkhorstspruit Dam and the Bronkhorstspruit.
The swimmers says that they had originally planned to tackle a 50-60km stretch of the Wilge River in Gauteng; however, after communicating with the farmers in the area, these plans were scrapped due to the severely polluted state of the river.
The Wilge River currently carries high levels of faecal coliform in the water, including E.Coli, due to runoff from the many farms, mines and residential areas that it flows through.
Although reluctant to compromise, the athletes say that they decided to swim a cleaner section of the Wilge's main tributary (the Bronkhorstspruit) to limit their exposure to health risks.
The swimmers then set off from below the Bronkhorstspruit Dam wall, accompanied by a support crew of paddlers. While most of the route was swimmable, the signs of man-made pollution were inescapable along the way.
"We experienced the disconcerting paradox of swimming along beautiful stretches of water, then suddenly being confronted with entanglements of plastic pollution clustered around submerged objects, which quickly reminded us of society's disregard for the health of our waterways," says Chin.
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 350km in a major river in each of South Africa's nine provinces.
The swimming activities aim to spark debate about what the authorities and public can and should be doing to save South African 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. This took place at an event coordinated by the Fresh.NGO action group.
The 2020 'Swim for Rivers' campagin has been sponsored by the 8 Mile Club and friends of founding swimmer Andrew Chin, and it was supported by the Bronkhorstpruit Catchment Forum, Impact Adventure Africa and Media Ventures.
For more information, you can follow Swim For Rivers on Facebook