Coming nose to snout with a great white shark would be enough to turn most trainees away from a diving career – but not Makhosazana Sengo. Being one of only two female divers to have entered the Transnet National Ports Authority system, Sengo is well versed in overcoming adversity to achieve her goals.
“In that moment I was very scared and traumatised but I overcame the fear by descending again. Now I am so used to seeing sharks during dives. I knew from the beginning that I had to think about the risks involved in this position, that I had to be aware there were a lot of dangers in this job. I also knew that I was entering a very male-dominated environment and I had to overcome all of this so that I could pursue my dream,” Sengo said.
Sengo currently serves the Port of Richards Bay as an Acting Civil Diver. She began her career at the port in 2011 as a Diver Attendant, but her links to the port go deeper than her diving tenure alone.
Prior to discovering her passion, Sengo – a Mtubatuba resident – was well-known as an arts and crafts vendor stationed on the quayside, supporting her family by selling her beadwork and soft stone sculptures to tourists visiting Richards Bay.
Her desire to learn more about the ocean came from an unlikely source – former South African Paralympian, Natalie du Toit. “Here was this woman, who faced so many hardships and was winning gold medals. And I thought, ‘What is stopping me from learning how to swim?’”
Sengo began lessons and after achieving her swimming stripes embarked on a lifeguarding course which then led to her earning a sponsorship from the UK-based Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) to participate in a Recreational Diving Course. It was then, that her journey towards becoming a professional diver gained traction.
“While I was participating in lifesaving training, I already felt like I wanted to explore the underwater world. It triggered something inside me that told me I was going to be a diver and to go and explore the beauty of the sea and sea life.”
Aside from the trepidation of entering a traditionally male-dominated profession, Sengo also faced personal fears – a fear of confined, dark spaces.
“I spoke to people in the diving environment to help me overcome my weaknesses about confined spaces and having to work in the dark. In particular, I was supported by my Berthing Administrator Liezelle Botes and by Kalvin Jansen, my Diving Supervisor, who told me I could do anything I set my mind to. And I did.”
As Acting Civil Diver, Sengo’s duties are multifaceted and include working under water with technical surface supply equipment, conducting underwater welding, cutting and grinding, underwater quay wall inspection and repairs, underwater maintenance of marine crafts and inspections using subsea project equipment, general inspections and underwater photography, as well as participating in surface quay wall furniture maintenance.
“My work environment is never the same. It changes every day. Each day I learn something new and that’s the exciting part of the job,” she said.
Sengo has Open Water Diver, Advanced Diver and Rescue Diver qualifications under her belt.
Earlier this year, she participated in and passed a two-month Class 3 and 4 Inshore Civil Diver training programme with Seadog Commercial Diving in Saldanha Bay.
The mother of one is not content with being idle now that she has broken through the door of one profession, as she is currently working towards a Civil Engineering degree and plans on pursuing training as a Class 2 and Diver Medical Technician.
Sengo is aware that her role in the port system turns a spotlight on the lack of female representation in the profession, but wants her journey to serve as inspiration to other young women. The first female diver in the TNPA system was Ratanang Maremane, who served at the Port of East London.
“You need to be passionate about something in your life, to dream big and believe in yourself. I want to guide everyone that needs my help. I was scared in the beginning but then I overcame all my fears and now I am reaching my goals one by one. Face your fears, find someone or something to inspire you and then the sky is the limit. There is a big world out there and a lot of diving opportunities for women,” Sengo said.