History of the Association of Round Tables of Southern Africa

Round Table in the Republic of South Africa was founded in the city of East London in 1948. The South African founder was Dr David Smith who was always proud to say that he was a disciple of Louis Marchesi, the man who welded together the scores of business and professional men throughout the world. When David was living in England, he was delighted to be invited to join RT 91 Bath. David’s connection with that Table was however to be brief. World War II was raging and young men’s connections with most things were brief if not unpredictable.

David joined the Royal Air Force and having been much inspired by the idea of Round Table, had to wonder if the war would still be on when he reached the retiring age of forty. By that time David’s parents had passed away, and he toured the Union, wondering where to settle down. His decision fell on East London, in the Eastern Cape Province. Thanks to his efforts the whole beginning of RTSA was to be closely tied up with East London, and not Cape Town or the great city of Johannesburg. When David settled in East London in 1946, he launched his practice as dental surgeon. The following year he was elected a member of the local Rotary Club, sponsored by Harry Perks.

Then in 1948 the President of Rotary International, Australian Angus Mitchell, visited the city of East London on an official visit. The President of Rotary East London, C.D. Morgan, discussed David’s plan with him and arranged a meeting between the two men. David was delighted to find that Angus Mitchell was well-versed in Round Table affairs. Angus Mitchell said to David without any hesitation. “Do it preferably in a private capacity, and I will give you my and Rotary International’s blessing.” David was delighted to receive the same sort of blessing accorded to Louis Marchesi so many years before.

So as Chairman of the Club’s Youth Service Committee, in 1948 he received a letter from the International Extension Officer of RTBI. The letter sought the support of Rotary for the extension of Round Table into South Africa, but although David Smith was himself immediately fired with enthusiasm Rotary did not at first give its official backing to the idea. David was himself below the 40-year age barrier and his vigor and enthusiasm were reflected in the first East London Table established on 9th November 1948.

On 6th December 1950, a second Round Table was established in Durban and about that time David Smith contributed an article on Round Table to a Rotary Publication. This made a great impression, and Rotary throughout South Africa gave full support from that time. A total of six new Tables were formed in 1951. The first was RT 3 which was inaugurated in Johannesburg, on 24th January 1951, and in that year an Association of Round Tables in South Africa was established.

The first National Conference of the Association was held in East London in 1951. On 1st February 1951 South Africa’s fourth Table has been inaugurated with the Charter Night Dinner of the new Table at Umtata, which was welcomed by the Mayor of the Town, Cllr. R. Knopf, as “A milestone in our communal life.”

Good wishes to the new body were expressed by Dr. David Smith, founder of the movement in South Africa, which had already led to the creation of Tables at East London, Durban and Johannesburg. He advised the new Table to work hand in hand with Rotary and Rotarians, to encourage and foster the young Table and to regard it as a nursery for future Rotarians.

By 24th November 1951 South Africa had already established 8 Tables and the minimum number of Tables formed they were ready to become an Association. The Association of Round Tables South Africa (RTSA) was born and held its first AGM in Durban in 1952. Thereafter, Tables sprang up across the country.

In 1953 RTSA chartered eleven new Tables and fourteen in 1955, including two in what was then South-West Africa (Namibia). For administrative reasons the Association was divided into Areas.

Following the independence of South-West Africa in 1990 and the change of name of the newly independent country to Namibia, the Tablers of Namibia decided to remain within the existing Association.

During 1994 Lesotho officially became part of the Association, with the re-chartering of a Table in Maseru. They had previously been part of ARTCA.

During 2002 Swaziland officially became part of the Association.

In 2007 RT Southern Africa created a Video promoting the good work Round Table is doing.

This video can also be found on YouTube.

Round Table Southern Africa

In 2009 ARTSA adopted the RTI branding guidelines and changed its name to RT Southern Africa.

In 2011 RT Southern Africa celebrated its 60th Anniversary during the Africa Region Meeting and National AGM in Rustenburg.

In 2014 RT Southern Africa Vice President launched his campaign for the year and it was aimed at all the Tablers that were leaving the Table and it was called “Replace Yourself Campaigned”. At the 2015 AGM President’s Banquet he honoured all those that achieved this.

Today RT Southern Africa consists of Tables in South Africa & Namibia and incorporates Lesotho & Swaziland (although presently there are no active Tables in the latter two countries).


RT Southern Africa has hosted the following WOCO and RT International Meetings:

WOCO 1982 – Cape Town

The first WOCO was organised in Cape Town back in 1982. Six days of concentrated activity, with attempts being made by 1,500 participants from over 40 countries to pack 29 hours into each day and still manage the odd hour sleep!

WOCO 1994 – Durban

The second WOCO was organised in Durban in 1994. About 1,000 people from more than 40 countries flocked to the WOCO Conference in Durban. The South Africans said that Durban was where the fun would never set, and the five-day conference certainly lived up to its promise.

RTI AGM & WOCO 2006 – Polokwane

Polokwane in the North part of South Africa was the host for the RTI AGM & WOCO 2006, the first after the WOCO era. RT Southern Africa had organised a very nice 5-day program full of tabling fun.

RTI HYM 2017 – Cape Town

Cape Town hosted the first RTI HYM outside Europe in 2017. RT Southern Africa has also hosted a few Indaba, Africa Region, and AMI meetings, including:

Indaba 1977 – Port Elizabeth
Indaba 1982 – Pietermaritzburg
Indaba 1988  – Durban
Indaba 1993 – Sun City
Africa 2007 – Johannesburg
Africa 2011 – Rustenburg
AMI 2019 – Durban


RT Southern Africa had spread the Tabling spirit to two countries.

– Firstly in 1977 RT Southern Africa together with RT Germany have chartered the first Table in Israel.

– The second was in 1981 when they chartered a new Table in Perth, Australia. The charter of this table created unrest in the WOCO world as Apex Australia complained that Round Table was intervening into their territory, so the Table was closed down.