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Women in Diving: Zandile Ndhlovu, The Black Mermaid

Zandile Ndhlovu recently became South Africa’s first Black PADI Freediving Instructor. She is based in Johannesburg and completed her qualifying dives at Miracle Waters near Brits. She also started her clothing brand that is sold online, called The Black Mermaid.
Her diving or underwater life started with a trip to Bali in 2016. While she was exploring the area she heard one of the guys shouting: ’Snorkel trip! Snorkel Trip!’ "I knew I always wanted to experience the sea deeper so I signed up, went on the dive, and went from ‘drowning’ in my panic to sitting at the bottom of the ocean with the divemaster collecting shells," she said. Once she returned to South Africa she visited Sodwana Bay. It was here that she signed up for a Discover Scuba diving experience at Coral Divers and fell in love.
“We did the basic theory, done some training in the pool and then went out on the boat for my first dive. As we held hands at the bottom of the ocean that day, I remember feeling something I have never felt before. I was in awe of being able to breathe underwater. I had never seen myself doing this. As we ended our dive I was horribly nauseous and fed the fish for what felt like a small eternity. But I knew I was in love! I got back to Johannesburg and immediately signed up for my Open Water Diver Certification!”
“A few years later, I came across this video of three girls swimming underwater with no tanks and I was confused but intrigued. I later found out that they were freediving. When the opportunity arose again in Sodwana Bay, I signed up. I knew I loved it as I did with scuba, I wanted to share it with the world. I wanted to teach. That’s when the journey started towards becoming a PADI Freediving Instructor. I’ve got my eye on the Scuba Dive Master qualification as well’,” she said.


“ Raja Ampat wins hands down,’ she declared. “Or is it the Dominican Republic with its Sperm Whales? Or Freediving with Great White Sharks in Mexico. This is a tough question. Let’s say The Dominican Republic, I'm fascinated by whales and the intelligence of the sperm whale leaves me swooning each time I think about the encountering these fascinating animals. I find the ability to explore the ocean on one breath is an incredible experience. I can’t wait to tick off these bucket-list top spots. But more than that I want to experience both the marine life and also learn about the communities that live around and protect these incredible experiences. For now, my favourite dive site has to be Sodwana Bay. It has some of the best diving I've done. The variety and richness of the coral life, marine life - from beautiful Nudibranchs to gorgeous Honeycomb Moray eels - there’s always a surprise in store for you. I cannot imagine another place that compares.”


“I support all conservation efforts currently happening. Be it in the protection of marine space, life, plastic pollution or discussions of how we live more sustainably. I think there is room to open discussion on how conservation efforts are protecting the communities that live around these oceans. I sometimes worry the human aspects are often overlooked. I am doing work to understand how the conservation laws are drafted and what it means to have communities rally behind these conservation efforts too.”
When Zandile qualified as a Freediving instructor she knew she wanted to share this love with the world. And of course, it would start in gorgeous sunny South Africa! So FreedivingZA came to life. The motivation is to help people transcend their fear of the water and replace that with the mass love the ocean is. Paramount to the goal was to diversify representation in the ocean space. One way of doing this is telling stories through the lens of a camera, and the underwater space always felt sacred to her. These stories often take many forms, at times to educate but at times to share her heart and the mirror that big bodies of water hold up to us. “I haven’t found my human inspiration yet. At the moment I find inspiration watching dolphins, whales and sharks - even when I am in Joburg, my heart remains with the ocean,’ she smiled
On our question, if she ever had a scary encounter in or underwater, she laughs. “ I have a million. My dive buddy might tell you about my obsession for Roundtail Ribbon Rays. Every time I see one of them, I come close to losing my scuba group. I need a leash!” she said. But her scariest experience had to be when she got herself entangled at 30m during a Freedive. “At the time my mind didn’t connect to pull the quick release. So, once I untangled myself and swam back up to my buddy, she asked me why I had taken that much longer. I just responded ’there were technical difficulties’.”
She currently works as a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, assisting educational institutions and corporates with their efforts to transform and was recently engaged by several schools to help them become more inclusive. In addition to doing talks about Freediving, inclusion and diversity, she also takes these talks to school career days. Through her work and freediving aren’t quite related she somehow find a way to make them lodge very well in each other.

You can follow, connect or keep up with Zandile on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter by going to @FreedivingZA. Her account, that shares more about the human, is - @Zan_ruffy - on Instagram. Or visit her website to connect


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