WSU alumnus, Zoleka Filander made the Top 200 Young South Africans recognized by the Mail and Guardian for her outstanding contribution to Marine Biology – the study of all aspects of life in the sea and the environment on which it depends.


Hot on the heels of the M&G, that same week she was announced to be one of News24’s 100 South Africans to display characteristics similar to the late Nelson Mandela.


Raised by her grandparents, Zoleka, is amongst a scant bevy of Black females active in her specialised field of Offshore Benthic Research which studies aquatic invertebrate organisms such as deep-water corals, their interaction with the surrounding environment and the environmental health of deep-sea ecosystems – a journey a far cry from smooth sailing.


“To get to where I am in developing national projects to advise policy, I have had to work ten times harder. You have to understand that a science degree/qualification only allows you to apply for the job, and does not necessarily land you it. To get the job, you have to stand out and demonstrate leadership, critical thinking and a range of other skills relevant to the position. It has been a challenging, but equally rewarding journey being,” she said.


Zoleka said if anything, her stint at WSU had taught her how to do best with limited resources and not wait for a situation to be better. The time spent at the University had definitely contributed to her better understanding of challenges that coastal rural communities face and motivates her to engage with such communities more- at different levels.


After obtaining her Marine Science honours degree at WSU – with nothing but luggage on her back – Zoleka pursued the coastal shores of Cape Town where she enrolled for a Master’s degree.


“After several meetings with potential supervisors, Prof Charles Griffiths took me on as a student and mentored me professionally, something that was instrumental in me being where am today. After handing in my Master’s thesis I secured a permanent post at the Department of Environmental Affairs as their Offshore Scientist. I got this post as a result of my expertise in taxonomy: a scarce-skill in South Africa and related experiences,” added Zoleka.


However, Zoleka said she was determined to make even greater strides within her sector to a pivot where transformation and gender equity is rightfully achieved.


“I look forward to playing my part in ensuring that there is good ethnic representation and gender equality within the Marine Science field. I also look forward to continue advancing offshore research in South Africa and in so doing ensure that the country reaches its sustainable goals” she added.


In conclusion, Zoleka was emphatic on the importance of education at a postgraduate level. She pressed that as challenging as it will be to further your post-graduate studies, one should do it because such an educational experience opens a new dimension with better opportunities.


Zoleka is an employee of the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and a PhD student with another Eastern Cape university.

By: Sinawo Hermans

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