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From rural herd boy to Cape2Rio skipper: Sibusiso Sizatu flying SA's flag

by Lauren Cohen 25 Sep 02:17 PDT

Sibusiso Sizatu spent the first nine years of his life herding his family's livestock and hunting with his siblings in the rural Eastern Cape. Without a birth certificate, he was unable to start school until aged 10, when he moved from Qumbu, outside Mthatha, to Masimuphelele in Cape Town.

But the 30-year-old has triumphed over his circumstances and in January, will captain the Alexforbes ArchAngel in the iconic Cape2Rio yacht race, with the first full crew from marginalised communities to emerge from the Royal Cape Yacht Club (RCYC) Sailing Academy on board.

Sizatu was first introduced to sailing in 2005 through a Simonstown NGO, but did not enjoy it, swimming back to shore when the dinghy was 100m out. Two years later, tired of being left alone while his sailing friends travelled the country attending races, he took up the sport once again. "My friend needed a teammate to sail with him at nationals - I didn't even know what a tack or jibe was, I just wanted to have fun with my friends." The duo came third, and Sizatu soaked up the glory of being on the podium and winning prizes. Soon he was sailing three days a week, improving as the years passed and sailing ever bigger boats.

"In Grade 10, I was forced to drop out of school due to financial problems at home. I also had no birth certificate or ID book, and thought that I would not be able to get a matric certificate. Sailing was my refuge and offered an opportunity to earn an income while doing what I loved."

In 2013, Sizatu was chosen to sail at the 470 Junior World Sailing Championships. The only problem was that the event was in France, and he would require a passport to get there. "I was sailing for an organisation called Race Ahead, and my coach's father took me to Home Affairs numerous times. It took a month, but finally, at the age of 20, I was recognised as a South African citizen, an amazing feeling." At the event, at La Rochelle in France, Sizatu and teammate Asenathi Jim finished 16th out of 89 boats. Since then, he has competed in Wales, France and Greece.

"In 2017, I volunteered as an instructor at RCYC Academy because I grew up sailing in a dinghy, and it was inspiring to see kids from same background as myself sailing in keel boats. I wanted to help and had the experience to fix the boats and get them on the water." Today Sizatu is the senior instructor at the RCYC Sailing Academy, responsible for 45 youth from township communities who sail on weekends.

Racing the Cape2Rio is a long-held dream, one which he was unsure would ever happen due to lack of sponsorship. "My dream was to race Cape2Rio with a 100% Academy sailing crew, and our team stood strong throughout the 1.5-year search for a sponsor, even though many of them would be easy pickings for other teams looking for experienced yachtsmen. When we heard Alexforbes was backing us, I just wanted to go out and celebrate."

On the team's chances in the race, Sizatu said it would all come down to the weather. "If we have good conditions, have a good chance of being on the podium. The first achievement will be to get there - winning will be an extra bonus."

The father of one said he hoped to complete his matric online in 2023. "When I question how things have happened for me in life, I don't have answers. I keep my head high, focus on what I am doing and move forward."

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