24 April 2007
Since Henry Charteris Hooper became the first man to complete the swim from Robben Island to the old Cape Town harbour in 1909, less than 300 people have made the crossing. On 27 April, South Africa’s Freedom Day, up to 100 swimmers will brave the waters between the former penal colony and Bloubergstrand.
They’ll be taking part in the Cadiz Vista Nova Freedom Swim, an annual event started six years ago to raise funds for the Vista Nova School, the largest school for children with learning disabilities and cerebral palsy in the Western Cape.
This year, specialised equipment, educational programmes and therapeutic needs to the value of R75 000 will be provided to the school through the Freedom Swim.
The seven-and-a-half kilometre race, endorsed by Robben Island, also promotes awareness of the former prison colony as a World Heritage site.
South Africa’s Freedom Day commemorates the country’s first democratic elections, held on 27 April 1994. Many of the heroes of SA’s struggle for democracy were jailed on Robben Island, including Nelson Mandela, who spent 18 of his 27 years in jail there.
Ram Barkai, CEO of sponsor Cadiz, says it is the group’s intention to help the Robben Island to Bloubergstrand swim become one of the world’s greatest oceans swims.
“We intend to link the swim to the symbolism and history that is characteristic of Robben Island,” says Barkai. “Robben Island is one of South Africa’s most important symbols of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. It is this ideal that the swimmers will embrace in their quest to complete this challenge.”
And challenging the race certainly is. The temperature of the water ranges from 11 to 14 degrees Celcius, but wetsuits may not be worn, nor are swimmers allowed to make physical contact with any person or boat during the race.
There are also strong currents to deal with, as well as the potential threat of Great White Sharks.
The safety of the swimmers is of paramount importance, however, and they will be closely monitored by race officials, medical staff and emergency personnel from motorised boats.
Included in the entrants for the 2007 race is superstar Paralympian Natalie du Toit, who has won the event each year since its inception.
One of the world’s top cricketers, Jacques Kallis, has helped Du Toit raise funds for the Vista Nova School by backing her through the years.
Steve Klugman, who has completed the swim between Robben Island and Bloubergstrand on 20 occasions – including a triple crossing in just over six hours in 2003 – has won the men’s race every year so far.
Both Du Toit and Klugman are patrons of the event.
Cash prizes are on offer to the top finishers in both the men’s and women’s races, with first place worth R5 000, second place worth R2 000 and third place worth R1 000.
Relay teams will also contest the crossing, with the winners picking up R5 000.
The field will be divided into two groups of around 50, with their starts taking place 20 minutes apart.