THE tides OF LIFE
Fairlady|January/February 2022
ZANDILE NDHLOVU HAS MADE HEADLINES FOR BEING SOUTH AFRICA’S FIRST BLACK FREEDIVING INSTRUCTOR. WHILE SHE OCCUPIES THIS SPACE WITH GRACE, IT’S CLEAR THAT HER DREAMS EXTEND BEYOND THE PERSONAL, ENCOMPASSING AN ENTIRE CONTINENT’S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE SEA. WE FOUND OUT HOW THIS JOBURG GIRL BECAME A MERMAID.
KYRA TARR

''I overslept!’ Zandi blurts out as she comes into focus on my laptop screen. It’s early on a Monday morning and, to be honest, so did I. We’re each clutching a mug of coffee, and we burst out laughing – that’s what you get for not starting the week as you should.

Her signature electric-blue hair is arresting, but it’s Zandi’s easy smile that tells you she’s a truly warm person – despite her love for the chilly Atlantic Ocean.

Becoming a freediving instructor was an unlikely career move for someone working in the corporate world in Johannesburg; yet, in early 2020, Zandi wrapped up the final contract with her business partners and moved to Cape Town to start The Black Mermaid Foundation.

‘The gist of my work is to create more diverse representation in South Africa’s ocean spaces,’ she says. ‘I want to make the ocean accessible to all South Africans, especially those living in previously disadvantaged sea-facing communities.’

Getting hooked

Born and raised in Soweto, Zandi had her first true encounter with the sea when she was 28. ‘I was on holiday in Bali in 2016 and joined a snorkelling expedition on a whim. Once I got a glimpse below the ocean’s surface, I was hooked. It felt as though a different world had revealed itself to me. When I got home, I immediately made enquiries and started working towards my scuba-diving qualification.’

Yet, despite completing her dive master’s certificate, Zandi struggled to connect with the sea as she had in Bali. Something felt different.

In 2019, she was in Sodwana with a friend when she ran into freediving instructor Riaan de Waal, who was offering a two-week Zero to Hero course. She decided to sign up for it.

‘The instant I got back into the water without equipment on my back I returned to that moment in Bali, and I simply knew that not only was I in the right place, but also that I wanted to share this feeling with people and become a teacher myself.’

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