Meet Zandile Ndhlovu, South Africa’s ‘Black mermaid’


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33-year-old South African free diver Zandile Ndhlovu founded The Black Mermaid Foundation to get more people of color into the ocean. Bruce Buttery for CNN

Growing up, Ndhlovu says she was discouraged from swimming due to a generational fear of water. Bruce Buttery for CNN

It wasn’t until an impulsive snorkel trip in 2016 that Ndhlovu would discover her love for the ocean: “It was just the most incredible moment when I stopped panicking from thinking that I was drowning and just realizing the incredible world that was under there.” Here, she dives in the waters off Cape Town. Bruce Buttery for CNN

Ndhlovu cites the impact of the transatlantic slave trade as a cause of continued fear around water: “When you look at slavery, people were thrown over the boats on these oceans … (that) trauma is passed down through history.” Bruce Buttery for CNN

Pictured here among the kelp of the African Sea Forest, Ndhlovu went on to become the first Black female free dive instructor in South Africa. She quickly noticed its lack of diversity, and was always the only Black person on the boat, she says. Bruce Buttery for CNN

Ndhlovu swiftly set out to make the ocean a more inclusive and diverse place, starting with Black children. She runs ocean exploration programs, where she introduces them to water — some for the very first time. Bruce Buttery for CNN

“I always believe we can only care about something once we’ve seen it, and when we talk about ocean advocates, it starts here. It starts by getting into the water,” Ndhlovu says. Bruce Buttery for CNN

Her immediate priority is the ocean, she adds, but her dream is to see more inclusive spaces everywhere: “That’s my heart’s work.” Bruce Buttery for CNN

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