A Sea of Opportunity

by Valdi Pereira


South Africa’s maritime economy is one of the country’s hidden gems and the Executive Head of the South African Maritime Safety Authority’s (SAMSA), Centre for Maritime Excellence, Sindiswa Nhlumayo is working hard to ensure it receives the recognition it deserves.


“To be honest I was not aware of the enormous potential the maritime sector holds for our economy until I attended a presentation by SAMSA, CEO, Commander Tsietsi Mokhele,” she reveals. “Afterwards I realised that I wanted to be part of this sector because it presents so many untapped opportunities that we still need to explore as a nation.” South Africa has for many years been intensely focused on securing its waters. While this focus has contributed to securing our national borders, the economic potential of the water mass surrounding our coastline has not 

been fully explored. Nhlumayo points out that the maritime sector encompasses a wide array of activities and that one should not simply think of seafaring when you consider this sector.


“We are very proud of the programme because it allows us to start breaking down some of the stereotypes that exist around the role of women in the maritime sector. The girls that pass through this programme become important ambassadors for the sector. “They help us build awareness around the sector and generate interest amongst other young women, who may not aspire to a role at sea, but are nonetheless interested in the maritime sector and can for example apply their talents in field such as marine finance and insurance.”


Youth Drive

SAMSA’s efforts at expanding the economic growth of the maritime sector are aimed at underpinning the objectives of the National Development Plan and the New Growth Path – particularly with respect to the need for South Africa to develop skills. “There is a pressing need to create sustainable work opportunities for the youth,” observes Nhlumayo. “The Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, Gill Marcus recently revealed that youth unemployment is at 52.8%. It is a worrying statistic for everyone and I believe we can play a role in tackling this problem.”SAMSA has been working hard at spreading the word with respect to the maritime sector and was recently involved in a maritime careers expo and job summit in Durban that saw some more than 14000 participants exposed to careers and job opportunities in the sector.


It is also positioning the sector as an attractive option to qualified professionals. It has recently introduced a marine engineering conversion course. In terms of this programme qualified mechanical engineers can become marine engineers in a matter of six months if they successfully complete the programme. The response to the programme has been overwhelmingly positive with some 400 applications received. “As with any economic sector one has to ensure that you have the basic skills available for commercial and industrial activity to take place. So one of our focus areas is to ensure we get these skills in place and we certainly believe it is an ideal opportunity for women to help grow the economy.“We are also encouraging those individuals who are experienced technical specialists in this field to further their studies. We also need to develop a corps of experienced thought leaders on the African continent in the maritime sector.”


Gaining Knowledge

Presently one of the challenges within the sector is to find role models and mentors for young women. Since the sector has traditionally not drawn many women into its ranks, experienced women are often under a lot of pressure to mentor and advise young women. In an effort to ease the burden SAMSA has conceptualised a programme where young people who are interested in the sector will have an opportunity to shadow participants for a period of time. They will then write an article about their experiences and it will be circulated on a variety of platforms. “It is one way of bringing the sector and young people closer together and I we are optimistic that giving this type of insight to young people will make them enthusiastic about a future career in this sector.” Nhlumayo, who started her career in the tourism sector and gradually moved into other fields to expand her knowledge of our economy believes that women are capable of doing anything they set their minds to.


“I think the key challenge for many people is that they often aspire to achieving something. However, they never take the actions that will set them on the path to realising their goals,” she shares. “What makes the challenge greater for women is that that they often hear ‘this has never been done by a woman’, this adds to their anxiety and soon doubt starts clouding their thinking. The world we work and live in has changed. I therefore encourage women to embrace that change and see the opportunities that have opened up and invest in their own development.” Nhlumayo who is enrolled for a Ph.D. in Maritime Affairs at the World Maritime University believes that learning is one of the ways that one can embrace change without feeling threatened by it. “I think one of the reasons people fear change, and limit their own growth, is because they don’t understand what is driving the change. If you take it upon yourself to broaden your knowledge and understanding, you will open up opportunities for yourself,” she concludes. 



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