ZOLEKA FILANDER (31)

Off­shore Ben­thic Re­searcher, Cape Town

Destiny - - Hair -

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.”

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