East London: Soweto-born Ratanang Maremane’s never-say-die-attitude has seen her come a long way. Her achievement as one of only two black female divers in the SA Navy since 2007 is proof of this steely determination.
As one of the newly-appointed Commercial Divers at Transnet National Ports Authority at the Port of East London, Ratanang is finding her new position and its’ great responsibilities to be exciting and challenging.
“My love for the maritime environment is what inspires me to be here at Transnet. Needless to mention the growth opportunities that are available in this sector are quite vast. I definitely see myself as a successful marine engineer within the next five years time,” she smiles.
Her main duties include taking care of Transnet National Ports Authority’s (TNPA) assets related to the water pilots, tugs, motor launches, quay walls, steel structures and the wave rider buoy in the Port of East London as well as assisting at Port Elizabeth and Mossel Bay.
“At Transnet National Ports Authority, my role includes protecting the TNPA’s assets by identifying the potential problems to mitigate risks as well as fruitless and unnecessary expenditure.
“On a daily basis we inspect underwater and above water assets, repair quay walls and steel structures and breakwalls in the port. We also assist the dock master with docking vessels and salvage and retrieve lost equipment, harbour assets and private equipment.
“My interest in becoming a marine engineer has been triggered by the great shortage that South Africa is experiencing in the marine engineering field.
“I also want to inspire the youth by showing them that anything is possible, regardless of whether you grew up at the coast or not. I believe that nobody is ever too old for education and to reach for their dreams,” she says.
A natural leader and an exceptional achiever, Maremane was elected as high school captain and SRC Chairperson of John Orr Technical High School in her matric year in 2002, and achieved her South African Netball National Colours in 2003.
Marema, now 27, quit her studies in Engineering Sciences when she received the good news that her application for a pilot learnership was approved by the South African Defence Force (SANDF).
With the objective of rejuvenating the military, Maremane was identified as one of the previously disadvantaged students and offered the grand opportunity to participate in the Youth Foundation Development Programme which was initiated by the retired General Ngwenya who was supported by Mrs Zanele Mbeki.
Maremane attained a National Certificate in Mechano Technology and was called upon by the South African Navy to serve as a recruit in Saldanha Bay in Cape Town after many successful administrative assessments were performed.
“When I received the news it came as a shock to me as I had no knowledge or interest in the SA Navy at the time.
“When I called my Mom in tears to break the news to her, her response was ‘go ahead and see what it’s about my child’,” smiled Maremane.
Her duration as a Navy recruit proved to be a difficult time for Maremane. Her application for the Navy Officer’s course was declined as management was aware of her passion for piloting, and it was seen as a risk to fund her studies with the possibility of losing her to the SA Air Force.
“Those were disheartening days for me as it was not helping me adapt to the new environment. Weeks later I attended a number of career presentations, and the navy diver presentation caught my attention.
“Apart from the fact that I’m physically fit, I knew for a fact that if I was put to the test I would not swim to save my life. Thus I believe strongly this was God’s will,” she says.
Having failed her very first diving selection, Marema was amongst the 50 potential diver candidates who were selected from the unsuccessful group to be sent to Durban’s Diving Unit on a three-month enablement programme to learn swimming skills before undergoing a final diving selection process.
This process was initiated by the previous transformation officer, Admiral Litchfield Tshabalala to correct the demographics in the predominantly white male-dominated environment.
Maremane was the only successful female out of the 17 students who completed the enablement programme, and was among the top elite 15 divers to be selected at a final selection process in Cape Town thereafter.
In 2007 she successfully qualified as a fleet support diver and acquired skills such as underwater damage control, air-sea rescue and chamber attendant. She has since been updating and maintaining the SAHRA database of historical shipwrecks, conducting shipwreck site inspections, and locating, assessing and recording underwater cultural resources along the South African Coast, amongst her many other duties.
She then served on the corvettes of the SA Navy for six months, and was placed back at the Navy Diving School in the capacity of assistant diving instructor six months later, and represented South Africa in The World Military Championships in 2007 and 2008 in Finland and Croatia respectively. She was awarded the Best Female Athlete Award in Croatia, and received Best Achiever award in Finland.
After enrolling at the University of South Africa for an undergraduate degree in BSc in Mathematical and Statistical Science during her last month of service in the Defence Force, Maremane was approached by the Head of the Maritime Archaeology Unit at the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA).
She changed her plans to study full-time in an effort to join the Maritime Archaeology team to be part of the establishment of the new Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit in the government entity.
She was successfully appointed as project co-ordinator and guided projects within the scope of the mandate of the heritage institution, Youth Development and Public Outreach, amongst others. She has been successfully involved in co-ordinating and attending policy development workshops and development programmes for the Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit, and liaising with key stakeholders for projects within the Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit.
In 2010 she was chosen to represent South Africa in Florida as part of the Slave Wrecks Project in partnership with Iziko Museums, George Washington University, and Biscayne National Park Services.
Maremane has converted her Military Diving qualification into a Commercial Diving qualification at the University of Cape Town where she received her Class Four commercial diving licence and Class Four commercial diving supervisor’s licence, and has been accredited by Boat Skippers and Nautical Archaeology.
“My advice to the youth out there is that the sky is not the limit; – you are your own limit. If you want it, you will get it. It may not be easy, but it’s certainly attainable,” says Maremane.