Thato Mabelane (2001)

Former South African rowing team member and Johannesburg resident, Thato Mabelane, will attempt a 30 day row across the Atlantic Ocean with seven other multinational rowers. They are expected to leave on Monday 19 January.

Mabelane has set her sights on becoming the first African oarswoman to row across an ocean and the team has set their sights on breaking the World Speed Record for the fastest Atlantic Ocean crossing of 32 days.

“We are not only attempting to break records we are also aiming to raise R3 million for Early Childhood Development. The charities that will benefit are: the Ubunye Foundation, formerly known as the Angus Gillis Foundation, a rural development trust established in 2002 in response to the chronic underdevelopment in the Eastern Cape, South Africa and Bulamahlo Orphanage in East Johannesburg Tembisa, a relatively small charity, established in 1989,” said Mabelane.

“We are proud to be associated with the Ubunye Team. They have great commitment to their cause, both in terms of successfully rowing across the Atlantic and also raising money for Early Childhood Development. We are all rooting for their success,” says Lucy O’Keef head of the Ubunye Foundation.

Mabelane’s fellow rowers are:

Stuart Connacher

Julie Dunne

Caetano Da Cunha

Leven Brown

Don Lennox

James Robins

Nikki Brown

 Ocean crossing

Mabelane and the crew met in Gran Canaria -Puerto Mogan, on 10 January 2015, and will row 5000km across the Atlantic Ocean to Barbados.

The crew will be skippered by world renowned ocean rowing skipper Leven Brown of Ocean Row Events. The crew will row in shifts of two hours on and two hours off for the duration of the row.

The crew will row in a 45 foot purpose built ocean rowing boat called Avalon which should be able to withstand the conditions in one of the world’s most treacherous bodies of water, with waves of up to  50 feet. The boat has a carbon constructed mono hull that will self-right if capsized.

The 8 crew members will share the cramped space aboard without ever leaving the boat, other than for a quick mid Atlantic Ocean dip in the sea. Each of the crew will get a daily ration pack containing three freeze dried meals and a bunch of snacks.

“The rest of the ration pack is made up of dried fruit, nuts and the biggest secret out - four chocolate bars, as we basically just need to get calories,” Brown explains.

“We’ll burn 8000 to 10,000 calories per day on the boat and we need to replace all that energy. Even with the ration pack we will be running on a calorie deficit.”

One of the team’s biggest challenges out in the open will be keeping themselves hydrated. According to Brown the temperature inside the cabin will reach up to 40-plus degrees during the day inside the cabin and quite chilly at night.

“In these conditions, the human body can only survive for four to five days in the tropics, without water, so it’s absolutely essential to our expedition.”

The team will have to make water daily utilising solar and wind power. The water maker is the most prized possession on board and to ensure it is always working there is also two back-up hand pumps on deck in case electricity is lost.

Mabelane and the crew are in good hands as Brown is no stranger to the sea as he has rowed 5 oceans and currently holds 5 Guinness World Records for ocean rowing.

To view the crew profiles visit

The public can follow the crossing via a live GPS tracker. The link to the live tracker can be found on the Ubunye Challenge website:


For more information contact:

Cameron Bellamy

The Ubunye Challenge




Ubunye Foundation Charity:

Vimba Charity:

About Thato:

  • Thato grew up in Tembisa just outside Johannesburg, and attended the Holy Rosary School.
  • The catholic school is where Thato was first introduced to the sport of rowing.
  • Following her academic and sporting success at school she moved down to Grahamstown, enrolling at Rhodes University where she studied Human Kinetics and Ergonomics whilst being an integral part of the womans 1st 8 rowing crew.
  • In 2003 she was invited to attend an international rowing training camp in Seville, Spain after which she represented South Africa at the FISA Team Cup international regatta.
  • Thato next competed at the World University Championships in Brive La Galiarde, France in the coxless 4 event – finishing 7th overall.
  • She moved up to Johannesburg to continue her rowing career as well attend the University of Johannesburg focusing on Human Resources Management.
  • Rowing across the Atlantic Ocean is a lifetime dream of hers


About the Ubunye Challenge:

The Ubunye Challenge was started in 2012 when Cameron Bellamy and numerous close friends, including Thato, chose to utilize their passion for endurance adventures by raising money for causes close to their hearts. They focus mainly on supporting education in rural Southern Africa. They have raised in excess of R800,000 to date.

The Ubunye Team have succeeding in completing a variety of endurance feats; namely a long distance cycle from Land’s End John o’Groats (UK – South to North), an open water solo swim across the English Channel and a world record breaking trans Indian Ocean Row. In 2012 the team completed a 24 hour rowathlon breaking four world records. 400 individuals took part from 5 continents. They continue to think up new adventures and raise funds for their chosen charities.

About the Ubunye Foundation

The Ubunye Foundation is a rural development trust, established in 2002 in response to the chronic underdevelopment in the rural areas of South Africa’s poorest province, the Eastern Cape. The organization focuses on socio-economic development through an asset-based community driven approach, empowering individuals, groups and communities and teaching self-reliance. The organisation takes a holistic approach to development, recognizing the multiple physical, economic, social and spiritual dimensions of human wellbeing.

About the Bulamahlo Orphanage

In 1989, 65 year old Regina Sekgobela opened a small day care for the children of Tembisa, a township on the outskirts of Johannesburg. The purpose was to look after local children when they finished school. It today fulfills the role of an orphanage. They currently take care of 15 - 20 children, but there have been more than 50 in the past. All children are welcomed including those from foster care, homeless, left by their parents or dropped off by the police.

This orphanage does not receive any help or funding from government and consists of three trailers of about 40 feet long and 15 feet wide. The trailers are used for sleeping, cooking, laundry, bathroom, and playing. Ms Sekgobela drops off and picks up the elementary age children from school each day. The younger children stay and learn at the orphanage. 

Source:  Ubunye Challenge

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