Homeless boy swims from Robben Island to Big Bay

On 5th January 2020, former homeless boy and refugee, Thabiso Molefi, a 19-year old from Cape Town, South Africa, completed the open-water crossing from Robben Island to Big Bay.

Thabiso showed emotional resilience by completing the gruelling 7.5km crossing on his first attempt in water temperatures ranging from 12-14 degrees.

“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,” wrote Thabisi in March 2019.

By completing this swim, Thabisi has added a huge personal achievement to the growing list of proud moments that mark this formerly stateless child’s transition into a remarkable young man who is forging a bright future for himself.

Thabiso was born in Welkom in the Free State to immigrants from Lesotho, who due to their own difficulties were not able to register his birth as a Lesotho national.

After various traumatic incidents at his home as well as being left to fend for himself and his two younger brothers, Thabiso eventually ran away and lived rough on the streets of Cape Town in search of a better life.

Thabiso was later helped into a place at the Homestead, a non-profit organisation set up to help street children and to provide prevention and early intervention services to children and families in disadvantaged communities.

With their support, he successfully finished school, had his birth registered, obtained a passport and took up open water swimming.

Thabiso’s determination to complete the Robben Island crossing was inspired by his swimming coach and fellow Homestead alumnus, Arafat Gatabazi.

At the age of 17, Arafat fled from a war zone in the Congo and was brought to the Homestead where he joined the swimming programme and also completed the Robben Island crossing on his second attempt.

Arafat now offers swimming lessons to children like Thabiso as well as mentoring and teaching wherever he can.

His aim is now to show these children that no matter how insurmountable the obstacles in their life may appear, with the right attitude, they can “move mountains”.

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