Top 10 South African inventions

Most people know that the world’s first heart transplant was performed in Cape Town by Dr Chris Barnard, but do they know that the other South African inventions include the CAT scan, Q20 and Kreepy Krawly?

Here’s a list of the most innovative South African inventions – and many of their inventors are from pretty unassuming places too!

1. CAT Scan


The Computed Axial Tomography Scan or CAT was developed by Cape Town physicist Allan Cormack and his associate Godfrey Hounsfield. He provided the mathematical technique for the CAT scan, in which an X-ray source and electronic detectors are rotated about the body and the resulting data is analysed by a computer to produce a sharp map of the tissues within a cross-section of the body. This resulted in a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.

2. Oil from Coal (Sasol)

When the South African government realised that South Africa had minimal oil reserves, this led to the South African Coal Oil and Gas Corporation (Sasol). Sasol is the world’s first – and largest – oil-from-coal refinery and it provides 40% of the country’s fuel.

3. Heart Transplant

The world’s first heart transplant was performed by Dr Chris Barnard in Cape Town on 3 December 1967. The patient Louis Washkansky was suffering heart failure at the time and Dr Barnard took the chance to operate him. After that, Barnard became an international celebrity. He went on to perform more than 10 other heart transplants, with one of the recipients surviving a further 23 years.

4. Kreepy Krauly

The swimming pool vacuum cleaner was invented by Ferdinand Chauvier from Springs. Chauvier tried to figure out a way to take the hassle out of pool cleaning. The result was the Kreepy Krauly and the first one was created in 1974. Our dads have been happy ever since.

5. Pratley’s Putty

George Pratley invented Pratley’s Putty while trying to create a glue that would hold components in an electrical box. Pratley’s Glue had a part in the success of the Moon Landing. In 1969 the substance was used to hold bits of the Apollo XI mission’s Eagle landing craft together.

6. Dolosse


Create by Eric Merrifield, Dolosse are large, unusually shaped concrete blocks weighing up to 20 tons. The structures are designed to break up wave action and protect harbour walls and coastal installations.

7. Q20

Q20 was invented in 1950 in Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal by a Mr Robertson, as a product to displace water from the distributor caps on the old VW Beetle, which was notorious for stalling in wet weather. It was an effective water repellent, kept rust at bay, eased squeaky door hinges, and made it easy to release rusted or seized nuts and bolts. Initially he did not know what to call it but he told his neighbour that it certainly had 20 answers to 20 questions.

The secret behind Q20 is that it is heavier than water. Since oil floats on water, simply oiling the area will not resolve the problem. But because Q20 has a specific gravity of 1.154, it can displace water which only has a specific gravity of 1. Once Q20 is sprayed on water, it sinks to the bottom, where it acts as a water displacer and lubricant on the problem area.

8. Retinal Cryoprobe

Selig Percy Amoils, a specialist in retinal diseases, created a new method of cataract surgery. He developed this method at Baragwanath hospital in Soweto. Amoils achieved wide recognition for his invention and in 1975 received a Queen’s Award for Technological Innovation. His cryoprobe has since been on display in the Kensington Museum in London.

9. Speed Gun

This invention could only come from a cricket loving country. Henri Johnson invented the Speedball in 1992. The device accurately measures the speed and angles of speeding objects such as cricket and tennis balls.

10. Smartlock Safety Syringe

Smartlock safety syringes provide improved protection against needlestick injury and contamination by Ebola virus, Hepatitis and HIV. This invention has saved countless lives.

SA – the Good News via Grant Mowatt at The South African