ZOLEKA FILANDER (31)
Offshore Benthic Researcher, Cape Town
Growing up in Kokstad, a rural, land-locked town in KwaZulu Natal, a career in marine biology seemed far-fetched for Filander. However, she loved the sciences and initially wanted to become a doctor.
After matriculating, she obtained an Honours degree in marine science and moved to Cape Town to do her Master’s. She then began working for the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). She’s currently completing her PhD in identifying and mapping benthic-sensitive ecosystems. Offshore benthic research is the study of aquatic invertebrate organisms within their ecosystems.
“Despite this field being white-dominated, I’ve achieved a lot, such as obtaining my commercial diver’s licence just one year after learning to swim. That makes me one of the few commercial divers in the department and the only black female diver in our research unit,” says Filander. She’s also led scientific expeditions.
“I see myself as a transformation role-player who’s aiming to inspire other black women to enter this field,” she says.
She believes that adaptability and patience are essential in her job, as is resourcefulness. “No matter how carefully you plan an expedition, there are always unexpected curve balls thrown at you out in the field. You need to be able to think on the spot and alter your plans in order to achieve your objectives. Accepting failure is also a lesson I’ve learnt.”