Name five things that are proudly South African. Go on, admit it, you probably went for food items: biltong, rooibos tea, Mrs Balls Chutney, Ouma Rusks, Grapetiser. But South Africa can also claim a few more serious inventions. How many of these did you know about?
If you visit the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, you might notice strangely shaped concrete blocks that protect the harbour walls. The invention of these wave-breaking monstrosities is generally attributed to East London harbour engineer Eric Merrifield, although his draughtsman Aubrey Kruger insists it was he who invented the interlocking blocks in 1966. Named after a sheep’s knuckle bone – proof, really, that it’s a South African invention – dolosse now fortify harbours around the world.
2. Pratley Putty
Invented by Krugersdorp engineer George Prately in the 1960s, Pratley Putty hasn’t just made its way around the world… This strong adhesive has travelled to the moon – Pratley Putty was used to hold parts of the Apollo 11 mission’s Eagle landing craft together.
3. Kreepy Krauly
While this much-feared pool cleaner wasn’t technically invented by a South African, it was invented in sunny South Africa. Hydraulics engineer Ferdinand Chauvier, who was born in Belgian Congo, had already been living in South Africa for 23 years when he invented the first Kreepy Krauly in 1974, so we’re claiming it!
4. CAT scan
You’ve probably heard of the Computed Axial Tomography (CAT) scan, which is used to detect tumours or damaged tissue using a series of two-dimensional x-rays taken around a single axis of rotation. What you might not know is that it was invented by South African physicist Allan Cormack and Godfrey Houndsfield (who was British) of EMI Laboratories. They won the Nobel Prize in Physiology for the invention in 1979.
Imagine how much more comfortable you’d be in the ocean if you had a device that repelled sharks… The National Sharks Board did just that and came up with the SharkPOD in 1996. This electrical shark repellent, which was made for Scuba divers, creates an electrical field around the diver that repels sharks. Fret not, the electrical field isn’t harmful – it just temporarily affects the shark’s sensory and neuromuscular systems.