Cape Town – Sailing, which started as an extra-mural activity for 30-year-old Sibusiso Sizatu, has turned out to be a successful career after he made a tough trade-off between education and survival in Grade 10 because of financial constraints.
He was raised by his grandmother in a village in the Eastern Cape and stepped into a classroom for the first time at the age of 10 as he had been herding his family’s livestock and had no birth certificate.
Sizatu moved to Masimuphelele in Cape Town to stay with his father after his grandmother died and with the help of social workers he started school.
“My mother was absent in my life which was a hindrance in getting a birth certificate because my parents were not married. I was lucky to be in a school where teachers understood my situation and my good academic record also assisted because up to Grade 10, I still had no birth certificate,” he said.
Sizatu was faced with another hurdle when his father moved back to the Eastern Cape because of financial challenges, leaving him with his stepmother. He dropped out of school and became the breadwinner in their household.
“Things were really tough at home and also with no birth certificate I thought to myself there was no point in pushing until matric because they will need my ID book.
So the option was to look for a job. Sailing was my refuge and offered an opportunity to earn an income while doing what I loved,” he said.
Sizatu was introduced to sailing by his friends in primary school in 2005. There was an NGO offering it in Simon’s Town but at first he did not have much interest in the sport.
Two years later, tired of being left alone while his friends travelled the country attending races, he took up sailing once again.
“My friend needed a teammate to sail with him at nationals and I didn’t even know what a tack or jibe was, I just wanted to have fun with my friends.
“We came third and I soaked up the glory of being on the podium and winning prizes.”
Over the years, Sizatu’s skill improved and he began sailing even bigger boats.
In 2013, he was chosen to sail at the 470 Junior World Sailing Championships, the only problem was that the event was in France and 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 overwhelming and amazing feeling. Since then, I have competed in Wales, France and Greece,” he said.
Sizatu is now a senior instructor at the Royal Cape Yacht Club (RCYC) Sailing Academy and is responsible for 45 young people from township communities who sail on weekends.
He is determined to inspire the youth and his dream of flying the South African flag will materialise in January.
The 30-year-old will captain the Alexforbes ArchAngel in the Cape2Rio yacht race, with the first full crew from marginalised communities to emerge from the RCYC academy on board.
“I wanted to help and had the experience to fix the boats and get them on the water.
“Sailing is a small industry with a lot of opportunities but the challenge is sponsorship. There is this distorted notion that sailing is for people who are retired or very rich so it’s hard to get funding. Also, children think it’s a sport only for white people, which is not true.
“I think there is not enough awareness or education done especially in our townships about such sports or careers. It’s hidden from us. There are many skills and opportunities in sailing.”
Racing the Cape2Rio is a long-held dream, one he wasn’t sure would ever materialise because of a lack of sponsorship.
However, thanks to Alexforbes it is set to become a reality.
“If we have good conditions, we have a good chance of being on the podium. The first achievement will be to get there, winning will be an extra bonus,” he said.
Sizatu, who is now a father, also hopes to enrol in school and complete his matric online next year.
“My son is also my biggest motivator. I want him to be proud of me and know that quitting is never an option in life.”