#20laps – The Linden Swimming Pool

Ice pelts metal in an elemental rage. The noise is deafening inside the indoor Linden swimming pool, but it’s a good thing we came here – it’s not exactly poolside weather. Pockets of Speedoed swimmers with towelled shoulders stand clumped together, dripping onto the concrete, their breath misting up the glass windows. The sky cracks with electricity. I see the rest of the #20laps team and head over to them. “We’ve been told to get out the water because of the lightening,” says Alex. All I hear is “out” and “water” and “lightening”. Gail gestures to me so I stand next to her; she leans in close and shouts something about the superintendent not wanting to talk to anyone or have his photo taken.

Continue Reading

#20laps – The Zoo Lake Swimming Pool

It looks like the whole of Joburg has come to Zoo Lake. It’s an uncharacteristically sweltering spring day; there’s boating and braaiing, and the Boules Club is throbbing. I’m not quite sure where the Zoo Lake swimming pool is, so I stop to ask a very busy car guard. “It’s on the other side, mfethu,” he responds. Fair enough, I look like a small boy with my camo cap and sunglasses. Cars snake, engines groan, people hoot. I finally manage to find a spot. It’s a glorious day, and the entrance to the pool is glorious in equal measure: it’s grand and colonial and quondam. I pay my nine ront and enter.

Continue Reading

#20laps – The Melville Swimming Pool

I had no idea the Melville swimming pool existed. I’d been to the Melville Spar a number of times, and I’d never noticed the blue sign that says SWIMMING POOL, with an arrow pointing downwards and a jiggly line indicating the steps one has to descend to reach said pool. Once downstairs, there’s a standard-issue underground parking lot, and still the pool – hidden behind parking bays and a car wash – is easy to miss…

Continue Reading

#20laps – The Bez Valley Swimming Pool (Hofland Park Recreation Centre)

Some white people come here, especially on a Sunday. But I don’t know where they are today,” says Thando. His faded, red board shorts have a large rip on the right leg, as if a sabre-tooth tiger got hold of them. He holds a plastic Power Rangers mask in one hand; its thin elastic bounces between his index and middle fingers. When he talks, his gold front tooth glints in the sun. Lots of small black children are at the Bez Valley Pool; Thando, the lifeguard, is one of the few adults. A group of teenage boys play soccer, a man with a Rasta hat sits on a bench under a tree and strums a guitar, while a guy in an incongruous Angkor Wat T-shirt stands with arms folded, looking at the kids splashing in the pool, wistfully (I wonder: where did he get the T-shirt from? Was it given to him? Has he been to Cambodia?)…

Continue Reading

#20laps – The Sydenham Public Pool

Walking into the change rooms of the Sydenham Public Pool is like stepping back into my 1980s childhood, except instead of a magical cupboard that opens onto Narnia, the change room reveals mirages of late apartheid, that I thought I’d forgotten: signs on the walls read DAMES/FEMALES / CLOAKROOM/ NA SWEMBAD TOE; the Nationalist concrete tiles; a broken deckchair; the slatted wood to sit on. NA SWEMBAD TOE. The language hasn’t changed but the sunlight now refracts off black bodies. The public pool is fairly busy on a hot Sunday afternoon, and there are a number of small black kids splashing in the shallow end. A young, beefy white guy walks next to the pool. He has a half-done dragon tattoo on his back, and a silver spiral pushed through one of his earlobes. A little black boy creeps up behind him and taps him on the back; the hulk-man pretend-smacks the boy on the cheek; the boy giggles and scampers off. Another kid springs off the diving board, feet first, while a guy with a man bun balances a small blond boy on his shoulders. At the far corner of the poolside there’s a middle-aged man with a black yarmulke atop his head, a lilo is stuffed under his wife’s arm. Another women wears a headscarf; her elbows and ankles hidden. There aren’t many people in the deep end…

Continue Reading