Team SA at OR Tambo Airport. Photo: Liezel vd Westhuizen/Twitter

Johannesburg - South Africa's performance at the Olympic Games was the best since the end of apartheid, SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) chief executive Tubby Reddy said on the team's arrival in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

“The young people standing with you, those medals round their shoulders, they deserve a big round of applause,” he said.

The team won six medals, half of the goal of 12 set by Sascoc.

Reddy joked: “There is no 16 for 2016”, the date of the next Olympic Games.

Chef de mission Patience Shikwambana said Cameron van der Burgh's gold for breaststroke had fired up the rest of the team, and she congratulated him.

She called his fellow swimming medallist Chad Le Clos, “No Stress Le Clos” for his approach to beating United States swimmer Michael Phelps.

While they were speaking, supporters continued singing outside the conference room.

ANC MP Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula received the first of South Africa's Olympic athletes when they arrived at the OR Tambo International Airport, in Kempton Park, on Tuesday morning.

Medallists 800m runner Caster Semenya and canoeist Bridgitte Hartley stood in front of Madikizela-Mandela as supporters used their cellphones to take photographs.

The crowd of supporters gathered at the airport sang the national anthem for the athletes, who stood in a line with their hands on their chests. A loud cheer, whistles and vuvuzela blasts followed.

Earlier Le Clos whipped the crowd into a frenzy when he introduced his fellow medallists.

“Let's welcome the athletes home,” he said.

Le Clos and Van der Burgh had girls screaming their names, amid the ululating and toyi-toying masses.

Before the athletes made their appearance, thousands of people waving flags pressed against the security cordons, and people watched from the upper deck of the arrivals hall.

The Mahikeng local municipality erected a massive banner welcoming back marathon runner Stephen Mokoka, who came 43rd. His supporters wore specially made T-shirts, and had one mounted in an ornate gold-coloured frame.

Crawford College Sandton pupils chanted school war cries when they were not singing shosholoza, and “welcome home” posters made by media houses got trampled underfoot.

“To know that someone from our school could go on to win a gold in the Olympics is like, wow,” said one girl about gold-medal winning rower Matthew Brittain.

“I love Caster,” shouted Agnes Makena from Tembisa, through an enormous curly wig in the colours of the South African flag.

South Africa was the highest-placed African nation on the Games medals table, in 24th position with six medals Ä three gold, two silver and one bronze.

Semenya won silver in the women's 800m, and Hartley bronze in the women's kayak single K-1500m sprint. Rowers Sizwe Ndlovu, Matthew Brittain, John Smith and James Thompson won gold in the men's lightweight four.

Le Clos won gold in the men's 200m butterfly and Van der Burgh in the men's 100m breaststroke, setting a new world record. Le Clos also won silver when he tied for second in the 100m butterfly.

Rower Arnold Mathapa held up a banner made of paddles to welcome his fellow rowers home.

“I train with them and I know what it's like for them. It's very inspiring,” he said. - Sapa