Five new divers have recently joined the team at the Two Oceans Aquarium. Buntu Meyeshane, Chad Joemath, Forrest Heesom-Green, Sandile Kumalo and Thembela Ngqwemla are intern underwater engineering divers, recently placed at the Aquarium by Better Best Skills Development as part of the Operation Phakisa Ocean Economy initiative (more about that below).
Two Oceans Aquarium Curator Maryke Musson, who works closely with these young divers had this to say:
The National Skills Fund has, as part of the Operation Phakisa Ocean Economy initiative, provided support to train unemployed youth from previously disadvantaged communities in the field of underwater engineering - meaning rigorous technical commercial dive training.
The Two Oceans Aquarium has been very fortunate to have been asked to host some of these newly qualified divers to gain additional experience, but also to expose them to scientific diving and aquarium maintenance.
It has been such fun having this enthusiastic group of divers as part of our team. Not only can they weld underwater as per their training, they can now also assist with the maintenance of the Predator Exhibit and feeding stingrays and turtles.
Beginning a career as a diver:
An underwater career is not something most people consider when they are thinking about what they want to be when they grow up, but with initiatives like Operation Phakisa underway there is a lot of scope for young South Africans to pursue jobs from marine research to underwater engineering. We asked some of our new interns about their backgrounds and experiences.
My name is Chad Joemath and I am a qualified class 2 commercial diver. Diving has really been a life-changing experience. I grew up in a gang-infested community and have been challenged with many things in my life. I was at home without any job, but I refused to fall prey to the gang violence and activities in my community.
The opportunity to become a commercial diver then arose. Having a background in lifesaving, I saw this as a perfect opportunity to establish myself. I joined an underwater engineering programme which was government-sponsored and Better Best College helped us achieve our dreams. Ever since then my life has been changed and I call on all young kids to consider a career in this field as it changes your life.
Before I became a commercial diver I was participating in run-swim-run biathlons for Western Province. Then, in 2013, I joined a lifesavers programme where I spent more time in the water and I realised I wanted to work underwater, rather than just being on the surface. Hence I did commercial dive training and my goal is to pursue a career as an underwater engineer.
Before the Better Best Underwater Engineering programme, I was a deckhand aboard boats - cruising the world pawning off any skills I could offer in the harbours and eventually becoming First Mate to the RV Lady Amber.
With no money to study and convinced I would receive no financial aid, my mission objective was to sail out again until I could afford a degree in Marine Science. The Better Best came as a life-changing, career-moving lucky break!
It was a fully immersed mixed-culture experience - as the future should be. The diversity of races in this goverment-funded course demonstrated how the born-free generation can move forward together, live together and work together - we are equal!
True friendships were made when we saw each other's differences not as faults but just as differences. It was truly awesome making friends who have such rich cultures and talking about such topics; sharing that common humanity. We are all so different but yet all the same, we all want shared happiness.
What is Operation Phakisa?
Operation Phakisa is a project of the South African Department of Environmental Affairs with focus on developing our “ocean economy” – this includes sectors such as conservation, tourism, aquaculture, and shipping.
“Phakisa” is Sesotho for “hurry up” eluding to the dire need for job creation and economic growth in South Africa. It is expected that the ocean could unlock as many 1 million jobs and add R177 billion to the economy of South Africans by 2033 , and these intern divers will not only contribute to that number, but the engineering skills they are being equipped with will enable growth of the marine business sector as a whole.
We are pleased to be part of Operation Phakisa's work in developing South Africa's ocean economy - and hope to continue being part of the sustainable development agenda.