Breaking Barriers Beneath The Waves: The Black Mermaid’s Journey

Zandile Ndhlovu’s roots were deeply embedded in Soweto, a black township on the outskirts of Johannesburg, where the notion of traveling vast distances to indulge in oceanic adventures was beyond imagination. Growing up without access to a swimming pool, she was surrounded by a prevailing belief that “Black people don’t swim, we don’t do that stuff.”

This mindset stayed with her until her 28th year when she embarked on an unexpected snorkeling journey in Bali. Unfamiliar with the terminology, she found herself perplexed when the captain instructed everyone to “kit up.” The experience of jumping into the water triggered initial panic as she grappled with the unfamiliar gear. However, once settled, a profound sense of tranquility enveloped her.

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As Ndhlovu gazed beneath the water’s surface, she was captivated by the mesmerizing blue, vibrant yellow fish, and the sun’s rays dancing on the coral reef—an awe-inspiring spectacle that forever changed her perspective. Motivated by this revelation, she pursued a diving course, ultimately becoming South Africa’s first black female freediving instructor three years ago.

The journey to this achievement was not without challenges. Ndhlovu often found herself as the sole black presence on the boat, facing language barriers in the predominantly Afrikaans-speaking environment. Additional challenges, such as ill-fitting wetsuits and inquiries about diving with her hair, highlighted the disparities she encountered.

Beyond the boat, questions from her own community arose. Friends wondered why she engaged in what they perceived as “white-people things.” Rather than deter her, these experiences fueled her determination. Ndhlovu resolved not to be just another black person working in a dive shop but to be an agent of change, ensuring that children of color have equal access to the ocean.

This determination gave rise to the Black Mermaid Foundation, a venture initiated and partially funded by Ndhlovu from her base in Cape Town, where the Indian and Atlantic oceans converge on South Africa’s south-west coast. The foundation stands as a testament to her commitment to breaking down barriers and providing opportunities for all to explore the wonders beneath the waves.

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