GroundUp: From war in DRC to swimming the open ocean

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    First published
    by
    GroundUp

    Arafat Gatabazi escaped
    conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2012
    and travelled 3,400km to Cape Town, an arduous journey that
    took several weeks. He was only 17 at the time, and came with
    his sister and two cousins, all of them under 20. This
    Saturday, almost five years after being granted asylum in South
    Africa, Gatabazi will embark on a 12km swim from Robben Island
    to Sea Point, 
    raising
    funds
     for
    a creche in Khayelitsha.

    Children are the
    future of this country and deserve a safe learning
    environment,” says the 22-year-old, who completed a certificate
    in Information Technology in 2016 and now works as a web
    developer. “Education is so
    important.”

    Located in Site B, the Imizamo
    Yethu Educare Centre operates from a single shack, serving 45
    children between the ages of five months and five years. The
    structure is cramped, and leaks when it rains. Money from
    Gatabazi’s swim will go towards installing a fully equipped
    container classroom through the
    charity 
    Breadline
    Africa
    .

    To date the drive has raised just
    over R5,500 — 16% of its R34,000 target. People wishing to
    donate may do
    so 
    here.

    Gatabazi learned to swim after
    taking lessons while
    at 
    The
    Homestead
    ,
    a shelter for street children in Cape Town where he lived until
    2015. Within a year he had completed his first Robben Island
    crossing, an astounding achievement by any standards. (His
    first attempt, a month earlier, ended when he got hypothermia a
    kilometre from the Blouberg
    coast.)

    Since then Gatabazi has swum
    around Cape Point (approximately 8km) for
    the 
    Little Fighters Cancer
    Trust
     and
    around Robben Island (a total of 13.5km after strong currents
    altered his course)
    for 
    Lifeline Western
    Cape
    .

    I want to show kids
    in children’s homes that they can achieve big things too,” he
    says.

    Photo: Arafat Gatabazi learned to swim
    after taking lessons while at The Homestead, a shelter for
    street children.

    To comply with open ocean swimming rules,
    male swimmers may only wear goggles, a cap, and a speedo — “not
    even trunks that cover your thighs”, adds Gatabazi, who was
    named Swimmer of the Year by the Cape Town Long Distance
    Swimming Association in 2014.

    Water temperatures in Table Bay range from 10
    to 15 degrees Centigrade. “I’m hoping for 14 degrees this
    Saturday,” says Gatabazi, who will postpone his swim if
    conditions are not suitable. He anticipates that his swim will
    take 3.5 to four hours.

    He took a break from training this week and
    flew to Durban to renew his asylum papers, a procedure he must
    repeat every six months. He has not returned to DRC since
    fleeing Goma, in the country’s troubled east, when armed rebels
    took over the city in 2012.

    I want to show that
    refugees don’t only come here to seek help,” he says. “There’s
    a lot of prejudice against refugees, but they can make a real
    difference in the communities where they’re
    living.”

    DM

    If any readers are able to
    assist a small media team with a boat ride to Robben
    Island this Saturday, please contact Kimon de
    Greef: 
    kimondg@gmail.com.
    (The boat carrying Arafat Gatabazi is
    full.)

    Photo:
    Arafat Gatabazi is a
    long-distance open water swimmer. He came to South Africa from
    the DRC as a child, and lived in a shelter until 2015. Photo
    supplied

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