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Propellers club changes the swimming tide

Into water: Kevin Mangani is one of the Propellers Academy swimmers
Over time, swimming clubs have been a preserve of the elite few, mostly regarded as a predominantly ‘white’ sport.

However, a group of young swimmers is turning the tide after establishing a local club in 2013, Propellers Swimming Academy. The academy is located at Molapo Crossing in Gaborone.

However, this was not just your normal business operation, but an idea born out of frustration.

The trio, Sydney Seabo, Simon Tshwaane and Solomon Mpusetsang, have faced consistent rejection in the job market after graduating from the University of Botswana (UB), each armed with a degree in Physical Education. Swimming was part of the course for the trio during their UB days, which meant coming up with the idea of an academy was unanimous. Seabo, who is Propellers marketing manager, told Mmegi Sport they opened the academy after completing their studies.

“We wanted to come up with something unique and challenging. When we started this (Molapo) facility was not there. The only facility that we had access to was the UB swimming pool.  We had to attend a course in Zambia and also attended lifeguard training in South Africa in 2014. On an annual basis, we attend courses to beef up our profile,” he said.

Seabo added it was not easy to break into the swimming market and when they dropped applications in different swimming academies, people always asked who they were.

“They used to ask us what we have, where did we swim and it was made worse when we revealed that we started swimming at 18 years (of age). It was hard for people to believe our abilities,” he added.  Seabo said during university days, together with Tshwaane, they were allowed to train as lifeguards so that they could teach other students in swimming and also protect them from drowning. He said in 2015, they were resident at Broadhurst Primary School. He said upon arrival at the school, the swimming performance had declined. Seabo said their role was to resuscitate the programmes but in two terms other schools knew what Broadhurst was capable of.

“It was not easy because we had to prove ourselves and also prove to the school board it was not a mistake to trust newbies from UB. We had strong opponents from established academies such as Darrel Morton’s School of Swimming (DMSS) and Gaborone Aquatic Centre (Waterbabies). There was also the issue of our skin colour,” Seabo said.

He said in 2016, the academy made its debut at the Botswana Swimming Sport Association (BSSA) National Championships and they received a befitting welcome because they were the first local Batswana coaches. He said people were impressed that they had been able to sustain themselves for some time but at the same time some felt that they had overstayed.

“We competed and since then we have been swimming in BSSA competitions as a club. We have also

registered as a society to compete with other clubs and also to be recognised by the Botswana National Sport Commission (BNSC). We exposed our athletes to competition and we even had a swimmer from our club in the national team. Unfortunately, the swimmer left the sport due to politics around the sport,” he said.

Seabo revealed that in 2019, the club had the biggest breakthrough when their swimmer, Junior Keitsile won The Zone IV Africa Swimming Championships (CANA) 50m breaststroke. He said since then they have been able to produce lots of athletes and teach many Batswana how to swim. “At Propellers Swimming Academy, we boast a broad range of programmes tailored for all classes, all age groups as well as all swimming levels. Our drive is for our clients to acquire and appreciate aquatic activities and ultimately adopt swimming as a lifestyle. Our programmes emphasise values such as teamwork, equity, competitiveness and discipline,” he said.

Seabo said despite their achievements, they still face some challenges that make it difficult for them to reach more clientele.

He said they are currently renting and it comes at a high cost. He said they are not able to have as many customers because of the COVID-19 outbreak. He said they now have to follow protocols. He said parents have a lot of faith in them because of the system they have in place. Seabo said they came up with protocols that were approved by the BNSC and they were even shared with other clubs, which they are all using now.

“This is the only facility in town that we could rent. Other clubs that we compete with have their own facilities. We have tried many times to apply for land at the Gaborone City Council but we are never successful. Even next year we would apply again,” he said.

Seabo said at the moment they are marketing adult classes and the target was to have 200 adults attending classes for fitness, therapy and learning to swim. Other programmes include athlete development support pathway (learn to swim, stroke development and age-group swimming), aqua aerobics and therapeutic swimming. The academy also offers lifeguard training.

“We only have four years but already we have smashed the CANA Zone IV record.

It is an indication that we are result-orientated. On an annual basis, we bring in professional instructors from South Africa who have coached Olympians to come and share with us here.

They also talk to parents after training athletes. We cannot have it all, we are still new. We want to understand how to mentor swimmers who are stars, how to balance school with the sport. It is a lonely sport because when you are in the water, you are alone,” Seabo said.


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