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Zandile Ndhlovu: The Black Mermaid

Chris Rogers

The Black Mermaid

Zandile Ndhlovu takes deep dives, not just in the ocean as South Africa’s first Black freediving instructor, but also in matters of the soul.

By Riem Higazi

I can honestly say that in the almost thirty years I have spent interviewing people, nobody has ever started an interview with me by asking ME a question.

Until last week when Zandile Ndhlovu asked me right at the beginning of our talk, “Riem? Are you a water person?”.

I am. I’m a total water person. I’m even a Pisces. I’m scared of sharks though. I respect them and will protect them with all my might but I once had a weird thing happen that was shark-related and now when a piece of grass touches my foot in the Neusiedler See, I freeze and wait for Jaws to enjoy my body as a satisfying meal (has up until now never happened).

I’m seriously going to address this irrational shark-fear thing because Zandile Ndhlovu has inspired me to actually think about trying to freedive. Okay, maybe not freedive but I would love to take one of her ocean courses.

Zandile is ‘The Black Mermaid’.

Zandile Ndhlovu

Danel Wentzel

The Black Mermaid

She is a freediving instructor and conservationist based in Johannesburg, South Africa. In fact, she is South Africa’s first Black African freediving instructor. She has also founded The Black Mermaid Foundation to help Black people overcome their fear of the underwater world. Especially Black children.

I told Zandile about my memories of growing up in multicultural Toronto in the 70’s and 80’s and how it seemed like many of my Black friends would not come out to the community pool because they didn’t like the idea of being in the water.

As a young child, Zandile herself was discouraged from going in the water past her knees and the ocean was, for a few reasons, not accessible.

„The ocean has been packaged as a fearful space in Black and Brown communities,“ she recently told CNN. „One, because our parents didn’t necessarily know how to swim, so if anything goes wrong, there’s nothing that anybody can do.“

A real factor to consider too is the enduring impact of the transatlantic slave trade off the coast of South Africa. „When you look at slavery, people were thrown over the boats on these oceans ... (that) trauma is passed down through history,“ Ndhlovu said in her interview with CNN.

She caught my eye on CNN and I am so glad I got to do my own interview with Zandile. I had the most interesting conversation with her and she told me of her path into the ocean depths... She is fascinating - her work and life as the Black Mermaid plus plenty of laughs and me inviting myself to South Africa to partake in one of her ocean freediving courses - that’s what’s on offer here.

PS. Zandile has the nicest laugh.

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