Arafat Gatabazi is a beloved member of Cape Town’s open water swimming community, and his passion for the ocean shines through at every OWS event.

But this is not the story of a young man who has been winning swimming trophies since he was a toddler. Instead, this is a tale of a hero who overcame tremendous odds grew to love the sea.

Pic: Supplied

Arafat’s South African story started in 2012, when he left the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, travelled through five countries and arrived in Cape Town without a home and without immediate prospects.

He took refuge at The Homestead Street Children’s Home in the City, where he joined the Homestead Swimming Programme and learned to swim. And after 11 months of spending all his free time in the pool at the Long Street Baths, a dream was born to complete his first Robben Island crossing.

“The swimming group’s coach, Marion Wagner, believed that I had great potential, so she approached veteran open water swimmer Selwyn Davidowitz to sponsor my first swim. Unfortunately they were looking for a South African swimmer.

“Devastated that I could not realise my dream, I asked if I could train with the swimmer they had chosen. This allowed me to continue my training, and when the boy stopped attending his training sessions, I decided to train harder than ever to show them my commitment.”

Unfortunately his first Robben Island attempt ended 1km short of the shore when he suffered from hypothermia. But, undeterred, he continued his training and a month later returned to the cold Atlantic to give it another shot.

To Arafat and his supporters’ delight, he succeeded his second attempt, and his commitment earned him the Swimmer of the Year award by the Cape Town Long Distance Swimming Association.

Arafat has since completed an internship as a web developer and has just started working. But he attends every open water swimming event he can fit into his busy calendar and has most recently swum around Robben Island to raise money for Lifeline Western Cape.

Pic: Chris Hitchcock

Arafat will participate in the Open Water Xtreme 2.5km swim on 30 April. Join him by entering at