Homeless youngster swims from Robben Island to Big Bay

Thabiso has shown emotional resilience on many occasions, but completing the gruelling 7,5km Robben Island crossing on his first attempt, in water temperatures ranging from 12 to 14ºC has proven, beyond any doubt, that he has incredible mental focus as well.

 

Cape Town, South Africa – On the 5th of January 2020, 19-year-old Thabiso Molefi, a young man with a painful past who is currently living at The Homestead Launchpad, completed the 7,5km open-water crossing from Robben Island to Big Bay – having been inspired to do so by his coach and mentor, Arafat Gatabazi, himself a former homeless boy and refugee.

“I have achieved in my life because of the people who motivated me and welcomed me in their families and who love me for who I am.”

These words were written by Thabiso in March 2019. On Sunday, he added a huge personal achievement to the growing list of proud moments that mark this formerly neglected, stateless child’s transition into a remarkable young man forging a bright future for himself.

Thabiso was born in Welkom in the Free State, but his birth was never registered as his parents were immigrants from Lesotho and due to their own difficulties not able to register his birth as a Lesotho national. After various traumatic incidents and difficulties at his home and being to fend for himself and his two younger brothers, Thabiso eventually ran away to Cape Town, in search of a better life. While he was living rough on the streets of the Mother City, Thabiso met a woman who took him in. With her family’s assistance, he was placed at The Homestead and started on the path that has led him to successfully complete his schooling, have his birth registered (and obtained a passport), took up open-water swimming and completed the formidable Robben Island crossing.

Homeless youngster swims from Robben Island to Big Bay

While some of his achievements might sound like run-of-the-mill accomplishments in an ordinary life, none of this is easy to achieve for a homeless, parentless youngster with no papers. Life in a children’s home is challenging, as it is a place where trauma meets trauma in many forms. As they face incredible odds, each boy has to dig very deep to stay motived and build a life for himself and resist giving in to hopelessness.

Thabiso has shown emotional resilience on many occasions, but completing the gruelling 7,5km Robben Island crossing on his first attempt, in water temperatures ranging from 12 to 14ºC has proven, beyond any doubt, that he has incredible mental focus as well.

“If I can, you can.”

Thabiso’s determination to push himself beyond his comfort zone was inspired by another Homestead alumnus, Arafat Gatabazi, who has been Thabiso’s swimming coach for 3 years. At 17 years of age, Arafat arrived in Cape Town on foot, having fled from a war zone in the Congo. He was brought to the Homestead, where he joined the swimming programme. 11 months after he first learned to swim, he completed the Robben Island Crossing on his second attempt. Since then Arafat has taken part in numerous open-water swims annually for a variety of charities, and in his spare time, he teaches underprivileged children from across the Cape Flats to swim. However, Arafat offers his young charges much more than free swimming lessons – he mentors the young girls and boys, teaches them valuable life-lessons and opens doors for them, wherever he can.

His greatest desire is to be an inspiration to children in distress, to show them that no matter how insurmountable the obstacles presented by their life circumstances may appear, with the right attitude, they can move mountains – or swim from the Island to the mainland.


Sources: Arafat Gatabazi 
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Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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