Arafat Gatabazi is a young man who lives and works in Cape Town. When he was 17 years old, he learnt to swim, and just 11 months later he swam in the cold Atlantic Ocean, from Robben Island to Blouberg Strand in Cape Town. The distance of the swim is 7.5 kms, which is a long distance to swim in open water. Arafat took 3 hours and 33 minutes to complete the swim, and his trainer swam with him for the last 2 kms.
Open water swimmers face many challenges when they swim in places like the Atlantic Ocean, such as dangerous predators like sharks, animals in the sea that sting, like jellyfish, and very cold water. When Arafat first tried to swim that distance a few months before, he suffered from hypothermia. Hypothermia is a serious condition that occurs when we spend too long in cold water or air. The body’s temperature drops to a dangerous level. Our normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees and if the temperature drops below 95 degrees, it is dangerous. But even though Arafat had to abandon the challenge the first time, he kept training until he succeeded.
Arafat is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He fled the DRC when he was a teenager, to escape being forced to become a child soldier. A refugee is someone who has been forced to run away from their country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee is someone who is afraid to go back to their country, because their life is in danger. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are the leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries. In 2015, about 21 million people became refugees in the world. Most of them came from Syria and Afghanistan in Asia, and Somalia in Africa. More than half of the refugees are children and many of them have left their countries without their parents.
Children become refugees from the DRC, because there have been two major wars in the DRC in the past twenty years. In that time about 4 million people have had to flee from their homes, for their safety. Over 5.4 million people have been killed in the wars. The DRC is a very rich country, because it has lots of precious minerals in the ground. But most of the people in the country are very poor. People have started the wars because they are fighting to get control over the mines. One of the most important minerals is coltan. Coltan is a substance that comes from a mineral called columbite-tantalite. Coltan is a powder that can be used at very high temperatures, to hold an electrical charge. Coltan is used for cell phones, computers and many other electrical products, so it is very expensive.
The struggle over the rights to the minerals in the DRC has caused a lot of human suffering and damage to the environment. In order to mine for coltan, rebels have entered Congo’s national parks, chopping down parts of the beautiful forests. In addition, the poverty and starvation caused by the war have driven some miners and rebels to kill the parks’ endangered elephants and gorillas for food.
When Arafat left the DRC, he left his parents and siblings behind, and now he thinks they may have been killed. When he reached Cape Town, he went to stay at The Homestead, which is a home for street children. That is where he joined a group of swimmers and learnt to swim. Since his first swim from Robben Island, he has done other long distance swims to raise money for charity. He swam for the Imizamo Yethu Educare centre in Khayelitsha, to raise money for a new container classroom, and he is planning a swim to raise money for Lifeline, an organisation that provides counselling for people who are struggling with their mental health. Arafat says that he is inspired by the life of Nelson Mandela.