The Black Mermaid Foundation founder Zandile

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Black Mermaid Foundation founder Zandi Ndhlovu
Credit: Craig Kolesky

Ocean Awards 2023 winner: Q&A with the Black Mermaid Foundation's Zandile Ndhlovu

26 January 2024 • Written by Hannah Rankine

As anticipation builds for the Ocean Awards 2024, the spotlight turns once again to the Black Mermaid Foundation, a South African charity led by Zandile Ndhlovu that clinched the 'Public Awareness Award: Local Winner' in last year's awards for its inspirational efforts in providing black children with access to the ocean. BOAT International's Hannah Rankine sits down with founder Zandile Ndhlovu to delve into the developments in the foundation since its triumph last year.

What is the Black Mermaid Foundation?

We are a foundation based in South Africa and our mission is to create access to ocean spaces and diversify the ocean space. Through this access, I hope that black people particularly find a space of healing and connection to the ocean in a way that allows us to be guardians of the oceans.

What inspired you to create the Black Mermaid Foundation?

My inspiration comes from years of diving and always being the only black person on a boat as a guest. Out of all the times that I had gone out to dive, I think it was only once that there was one other person of colour on the boat, so I knew that change needed to come to the industry and in South Africa. Being the only one comes with different levels of hardship, whether it was wetsuits that didn't fit or language or narratives that were unhelpful on the boat, and obviously racism. So, I wanted to create an inclusive space, that expands the norms of who is a water person, and that changes the narrative for generations to come.

How have you overcome some of the challenges of being the only black female freediving instructor in South Africa?

Putting the foundation out there on the international stage and intentionally placing the ocean space on social media has helped me become a public figure and has changed how I interact in those spaces. Becoming a freediving instructor was beautiful because it allowed me to do the one thing that I wanted to do more than anything. I had this little certificate that I could put out into the world and do something with. It has been a great learning experience. I always say, 'we don't have all the answers, but we can only do as best we can'. 

Credit: Craig Kolesky

What are some of the challenges you have faced in running the foundation?

Funding is a big issue from when we started. We have always been self-funded and I think as we're growing, there is a need for not only consistency, because we have managed to get that right, but expanding our work and being able to let the foundation run by itself when I'm not there. So, that is what we are working on actively this year - getting more funders on board so we can ensure that our work is not only consistent, but also growing. Having a clear vision means we can overcome these challenges and move forward.

What has winning at the Ocean Awards meant to you?

What's always important is to get the word out of the work that you're doing, and maybe one day you come across someone willing to partner or help fund your work. But for me, it's not expected to be recognised for the work that you do, so to have that level of global recognition is a beautiful thing.

Have you been working on any exciting projects recently?

We are working on expanding and we have been donated a shipping container. Our focus this year is to open a hub at Langa and have a physical presence in the community that allows people to be a part of our work. We also want to start offering swimming lessons. The success of that will hopefully allow us to expand into other territories as well.

Where would you like to see the foundation in 10 years' time?

Over the next 10 years, I would like to have a hub in every coastal country as well as all along the South African coast. South Africa has a hard history when it comes to the ocean, so there is important work to be done in reclaiming our ocean space and empowering communities to be active stakeholders in the oceans. I hope that the ocean hubs we create bring money into communities and create opportunities for kids in those communities to access the ocean.

Is there anything that the superyacht sector can do to support your work?

You can go to our website and contact us if you think there is anything you can assist us with, be it shipping containers, sponsoring a trip or sponsoring books towards the hub. The main thing for us is securing funding, securing continuity, being able to supply resources and hiring people that we need to be able to do the work. Please keep sharing our work too, especially in the yacht space. Someone might not have the money to give us but they might have an idea of how we could progress on the dreams we have. 

The Ocean Awards recognises and rewards those that share our commitment to fixing the crisis in our oceans, from local heroes to renowned scientists and pioneering innovators. Nominations for the Ocean Awards 2024 are now closed. If you have any questions, please get in touch with the events team.

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