Zandi Ndhlovu: Tales of a black mermaid


What do a black mermaid and a white shark have in frequent? They’re each fearless, sharp and happiest within the ocean depths. They usually’re named Zandi. Conservationist and social activist Zandile Ndhlovu is just not solely the primary freediving teacher to come back out of Soweto, she’s additionally the primary black teacher within the nation.

Seeing my first white shark was actually the primary time I had an ‘oh shit’ second within the ocean. I’ve been diving since 2016, and had by no means had any typical concern of marine life. I used to be in a cage in Mossel Bay, filming for the Discovery Channel and searching for these white sharks to tag. I wasn’t certain if I’d be happier in or out of that cage. It was breathtaking second – discovering her, tagging her… after which I practically misplaced my thoughts when she was named after me. 

What’s humorous about Zandi the shark is, she disappears for days after which she reveals up out of nowhere. Anybody near me, is aware of that I don’t essentially keep in a single place for a very long time. I’m all the time hopping round all over the place after which I am going silent after which I present up out of nowhere and everybody says, ‘The place the hell have you ever been?’ So she is me; we’re one another. I really like that.

From the primary second of seeing beneath the floor of the water in 2016, I simply fell in love and I knew that it was the place I wanted to be. I used to be on a snorkelling journey in Bali, and I used to be hooked. I got here again to South Africa and requested everybody, ‘What’s subsequent? What occurs after snorkelling?’ And that’s how I ended up diving. I knew that I didn’t solely need to do that for leisure; I wished to show and I wished to inform anyone who would pay attention.

In a extremely good week, I’m in that water three to 4 instances. Typically it’s a dive, typically it’s simply an ocean swim but it surely’s a repair I have to have.

After I’m down there, I be happy. Unbounded. Free from the expectations of the world, of society. I really feel my most true self. A peace. Liberated. The ocean is my church, the last word place of worship. It’s the place I am going to position all of my ideas, all of my burdens. To only be in awe of life.

I got here to diving late, and I’m nonetheless bewildered by the ocean’s wild magnificence. I by no means skilled any actual concern of marine life. Throughout my first shark dive, I bear in mind the blacktips had been circling the boat. They’re about one and a half to 2 metres lengthy however after I heard ‘Soar!’ I simply rolled again on to the sharks and went down amongst them. I wasn’t fearful in any respect.

Overcoming concern is the fantastic thing about letting go. Within the ocean you will have visibility at 25m or deeper, however in a quarry it will get darkish at round seven or eight metres. In Joburg, while you dive in quarries, it’s extremely darkish. You must launch your fears when you’ll be able to’t see something. It’s a very good lesson – to sit down in darkness and be at peace. It additionally is dependent upon what you grew up round. For us, it’s typically mentioned that healers will go underwater, that deep water is an ancestral area. So I believe it’s only a query of what narratives you grew up with round water, as a result of though there aren’t any sharks in these quarries, there’s positively a component of concern. The ocean is approach greater, making the chances of an “unreal encounter” fairly low, whereas I really feel within the quarry they’re not so low – about one in 12. Your creativeness runs wild.

Quarries are a very good place to practise depth and buoyancy, and also you’re capable of get your certification at a lesser value than having to go to the ocean. It’s positively a strategy to grow to be a greater diver, significantly in the event you don’t dwell close to the coast.

I grew up in Soweto. The consolation I now really feel within the ocean didn’t come instantly. That feeling that something may go flawed has settled a bit now. It’s to not say that nothing can go flawed – I simply have the abilities to navigate “conditions” which may come up.

At first, my household would ask, ‘What are you doing? Are you making an attempt to kill your self?’ My grandmother would say it on a regular basis. They had been shocked. With time their views have modified. They’re realised that possibly it’s truly okay for me to be there, within the water. Not that it has rubbed off on anyone else in my household. But.

That’s why I began the Black Mermaid Basis, which introduces deprived youngsters to the water. As a result of I realised that I needed to inform all people who would pay attention. I need all people to expertise what I expertise – at the least as soon as. I’d like to vary the narrative that exists across the water. To bridge this concern. The reply is to work with youngsters. I need to see black and brown households in these ocean areas; going out to the seashore, truly being within the water. The tradition must shift.

All of that is near me due to my household. I took my sister and brother out diving with me, and to have the ability to share the water in that approach, within the midst of such wild concern, was unbelievable. It’s a sense that I’ll by no means ever be capable to clarify to anyone else. That second when my sister needed to belief me, to come back into depth with me, is well one among my most particular reminiscences.

Zandi’s High 5 Dives


Sodwana Bay is such an unbelievable place – you’ll be able to come throughout something there. And Aliwal Shoal is totally liked by sharks. Sufficient mentioned.

Cape City

The kelp forests blew my thoughts, and I’m nonetheless completely mindblown by them. 

North West

Marico Oog is a freshwater spring in Ventersdorp that’s completely lovely. It’s crystal clear and an excellent place for rookies.


Dahab and Ros Mohammed have probably the most magnificent coral life and crystal-clear heat water, plus unbelievable wrecks.

Africa’s East Coast

Kenya is similar to Sodwana. You see loads of paper fish – they’ve obtained them in varied colors… pink, purple, black and white. Mozambique is magical, and particular point out has to go to Seychelles, which is like diving in a shower.

A model of this text initially appeared within the September 2022 print situation of Getaway

Images by Kristof Goovaerts and Nicolene Olckers

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