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Swimming with Spencer

Ten years ago, a fat Iittle boy went to the Orlando Swimminq Pool In Soweto everyday. Everybody laughed at him. They called him Spencer after the fat cowboy in the films.

But today nobody laughs. They still call him Spencer but he is no longer fat. Spencer, whose real name is Mokatjo Mota, is thin and very fit. He is also one of the best swimmers in the country.


“I have always loved swimming,” says Spencer. “Maybe I love swimming because we have no bath at home. I went to the pool to lie around in the water. And there I found swimming came easily to me.”

Then one day all those years ago, Spencer was swimming in the pool ­ just like he always did. He swam up and down. And as always, he was having a great time. But that day was different to other days. Somebody was watching him.

The man’s name was Mr Sekoanyane. He was a big somebody in the swimming world. He did not laugh like everybody else. He just watched. And he liked what he saw.

When Spencer got out of the pool, Mr Sekoanyane went to speak to him. He told Spencer that he wanted to teach him all about swimming. Spencer didn’t think twice. He could not believe it. He was going to get lessons from the great Sekoanyane.

Soon after they started lessons, Mr Sekoanyane saw that Spencer swam breaststroke best. He told Spencer to stick to this style of swimming. And so Spencer listened to his new teacher. After all, the great Sekoanyane knew best.


Spencer learnt many things from his new teacher. He learned’ how to breathe in the water and he learned how to swim fast. And he learned that the life of a swimming champion is not easy. It’s hard work.

When everyone is still sleeping, or getting ready for work, Spencer is already at the swimming pool. “Sometimes I don’t feel like swimming,” says Spencer. “I lie in my warm bed and feel very comfortable. It is still dark outside. But I know that I must get up. I know that the water is waiting for me.”

Spencer swims up and down for two hours before he goes to school. In the evening he goes back to the pool. And he swims for another two hours. Altogether he swims six kilometres every day.

But that is not all Spencer does. He also lifts. weights to build up his muscles and his strength. Yes, a champion’s life is not easy.


Last year a white swimming team asked Spencer to join them. Spencer thought about it. He knew that the white club was richer. They have bigger and better swimming pools. And in winter they have pools with warm water. They have everything a swimmer needs.

But Spencer did not think for long. He decided to stay with. his own club – the Orlando Amateur Swimming Club. He liked the people in his club. And he liked what they believed in.

Spencer’s club is a member of an organisation called the South African Council of Sport – or just SACOS for short. The people in SACOS believe that people who play sport must also fight apartheid. They believe that you cannot seperate sport from politics.

The SACOS teams are not the government’s favourites. They do not get much money. This means that some people must suffer – like Spencer. Spencer must borrow the weights he needs to build his beautiful muscles. And when winter comes, he has no pool with warm water. He must keep fit by playing tennis instead.

Many people are angry about the way black sports people suffer. One of these people is Spencer’s new trainer, Mr Ratladi. “Spencer swims well and he trains hard,” says Mr Ratladi. “If Spencer Iived anywhere else in the world, he would be the best. But he can’t be here.

‘He needs more equipment and for that he needs money. Water is just not enough. Look at Spencer’s mother. She is on her own with five children. She cannot buy Spencer the things he needs. At the club it is the same thing. There is just not enough money.”

But Spencer has made up his mind. He is sure of himself. I have swum for SACoS for ten years,” says Spencer. “Even if I swam at another club, I must still come back to Soweto. In Soweto I am one of the people. I will never swim for the other side.”


Spencer has won many races and many medals. He has broken many records. He is captain of the SACoS school team and he is the SACoS sportsperson of the year. But all this is not enough. Spencer wants to carry on swimming for a few more years.

Then he wants to teach others how to swim – just like Mr Sekoanyane taught him. “At the same time I want to study to be a lawyer,” says Spencer. “If I am a lawyer, I can give something back to my community.”

The fat, little boy from the Orlando Pool has come a long way. Today nobody laughs at him any more. That’s for sure .


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