10 World-First Innovations you probably didn't know were invented by South Africans

South African inventions have helped to change the world for the better, but what really defines our country's great innovations is how practical they are, created out of necessity and simplifying or revolutionising a previously complicated process.

Here are 10 of these great inventions that you might or might not be familiar with:

  • Vivian Alberts

    1. Economical Solar Power

    In 2005, University of Johannesburg Physicist, Professor Vivian Alberts, developed solar power technology that uses a micro-thin metallic film instead of the much thicker and considerably more expensive silicon-based solar photovoltaic cells.

    The technology has made solar electricity in South Africa five times cheaper.

  • Percy Tucker

    2. Computerized Ticketing

    In 1971, Percy Tucker from Benoni transformed the events and entertainment industry by inventing the world's first computerized, centralised ticket booking system - Computicket. No longer did people have to stand in theatre queues for hours only to be told that the cheapest tickets had already sold out (often to friends and family of the event organisers).

    Computicket soon secured Ster-Kinekor as its first client, and the service took off across South Africa and internationally.

  • Henri Johnson

    3. Speed Gun sports technology

    In 1992, South African engineer Henri Johnson revolutionised cricket and tennis when he invented the world's first radar gun to measure the speed and angle of fast-flying balls.

    The gun works by sending out a radio wave, which is then reflected back by any object in its path. The gun receives this echo and then, using the Doppler Shift principle, calculates the speed of the ball. The technology is highly accurate and instantaneous.

    The radar gun is now used at the Cricket World Cup.

  • John Raubenheimer

    4. Automatic pool cleaning

    South African inventors are pioneers when it comes to pool cleaning. In the late 1960s, Johannesburg's John Raubenheimer unveiled the world's first automatic pool vacuum - the Pool Bug Automatic Pool Cleaner. The simple system used water pressure generated by the pool pump to create suction for the cleaner.

    Before Raubenheimer's invention, pool cleaning was a tedious job, done by hand. His creation inspired similar inventions such as the Kreepy Krauly (launched in 1974 by South African-based engineer Ferdinand Chauvier) and created a worldwide pool cleaning industry.

  • Pratley Putty

    5. Pratley Putty - the only SA product to go to the moon

    When the Americans landed on the moon in 1969, Neil Armstrong and his team took a bit of South Africa with them - Pratley Putty - an insulator and adhesive agent developed by South African George Pratley in the 1960s. The exceptionally strong substance was used to keep parts of Apollo 11's landing vehicle stuck together and is the only South African product to have ever gone to the moon. Pratley Putty is used today in applications ranging from sealing work to gluing wood and metal together.

  • Retinal Cryosurgery

    6. Retinal Cryosurgery

    While working at Soweto's Baragwanath Hospital in 1965, South Africa's Dr Selig Percy Amoils unveiled the Amoils Cryo Pencil, which is the world's first surgical tool that uses extreme cold (nitrous oxide) to destroy unwanted tissue.

    Dr Amoils' pencil has made retinal detachment surgery and cataract extraction simple and safe - it has been used to treat Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela's eyes. His invention has transformed cryosurgery (the use of extreme cold produced by liquid nitrogen) for gynaecology, lung, heart, mouth, liver and prostate surgery.

  • Cybertracker

    7. Cybertracker

    Some of the best traditional animal trackers in the world can't read or write. To overcome this, South African physicist Louis Liebenberg and computer scientist Lindsay Steventon developed the world's first software that has an image-based user interface enabling expert non-literate trackers to record complex geo-referenced observations on animal behaviour

    CyberTracker has proved a vital tool to conservation, used to monitor gorillas in the Congo, snow leopards in the Himalayas, butterflies in Switzerland, the Sumatran rhino in Borneo, jaguars in Costa Rica, birds in the Amazon, wild horses in Mongolia, dolphins in California, marine turtles in the Pacific and whales in Antarctica.

  • Q20

    8. Q20

    In 1950, Pinetown inventor, Mr Robertson (first name unknown) invented the multi-purpose lubricant Q20. Robertson called it a product with 20 answers to 20 problems - from repelling water, keeping rust at bay and easing squeaky hinges to helping release rusted or seized nuts and bolts.

    Up until Q20's invention, no such all-purpose product existed.

  • Dolos

    9. Dolos

    Ever wondered what those big, odd-shaped blocks of concrete are near habours? They're called dolos and were invented in the 1960s by South African Eric Merrifield as a way to protect harbour walls, breakwaters and shore earthworks from the erosive force of waves.

    Weighing up to 20 tons each, the Dolos' complex geometric design deflects wave energy to the side, making them more difficult to dislodge than objects of a similar weight presenting a flat surface.

    Dolos are now used in almost every waterfront across the world.

  • Kimberley

    10. Kimberley - a city of firsts

    Kimberley is one of South Africa's pioneering cities, being the first to introduce a number of revolutionary technologies and systems. In September 1882, Kimberley became the first city in the Southern Hemisphere and the second city in the world (after Philadelphia) to install electric street lights.

    Kimberley was also home to Africa's first stock exchange in 1881, South Africa's first hotel with electricity, the first state school for paraplegics, the first direct dialling telephones, the first female judge (Justice Leonora van de Heever), the first drive-in and the first professional nursing academy.

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