FEEL GOOD | Meet the Port of Durban’s first woman commercial diver

  • Roxanne Manikkam, a Transnet employee in the building and marine contracts department, is the first commercial female diver in the Port of Durban.
  • Manikkam said she had to overcome biased gender hurdles to achieve her goals.
  • She encouraged young women to muscle their way into male dominated industries.

For the first time in more than a century and a half of its history, the Port of Durban can boast its first woman diver.

Roxanne Manikkam, a technical supervisor in the building and marine contracts department at the Port of Durban, is on a mission to inspire women, particularly the younger generation.

The time for fear and intimidation for women is over and it was time for younger women to push through into male-dominated industries, she told News24.

“In a time marked by crisis and uncertainty, women are at the cusp of the change that the world needs,” she said.

Early on in her career, a maverick Manikkam sought to push all boundaries.

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“I realized there was a skill shortage, so I pursued my career hoping to close gaps. I knew my organisation [Transnet] believed that women are at the cusp of the change the world needs and I wanted to be part of that change.”

She said construction and civil work was something that she’d picked up from her family.

Roxanne Manikkam.

“Managing marine and infrastructure projects on our port gives me job satisfaction. I also found a skill shortage. There wasn’t any woman, ever being produced as a commercial diver.”

This she said, motivated her to begin exploring the marine aspects of her field.

“I found my love and passion deeper for the blue economy after qualifying as a commercial diver. There is a wide scope of marine tasks it comes with and the windows of opportunities it can open up.”

Family and teacher inspirations

A love for the ocean was instilled in her at a young age by her family. she said:

Looking back on my upbringing, the ocean, beach or pool was an every week family occasion. I was thrown in deep waters, but my parents were always there to catch me. It taught me that life throws you into situations. You have to survive and not drown and most times there is no one to catch you in such situations. Maybe that was a life lesson right there I didn’t know I was being taught.

She said growing up, her parents pushed her and her sisters as much as possible.

“There were five of us. They also told us to finish strong in whatever endeavours we start, and that life out there is not always easy. They instilled in us, having the mentality to solve problems no matter what it was and even if we made mistakes we were told that ‘mistakes have the power to turn you into something better than you were’.”

Pushing her limits

Manikkam said her diving instructor, Grant Jameson, also inspired her and pushed her to her limits. With him, she completed her Class IV and III Commercial diving ticket at the Professional Diving Center (PDC) based on the Port of Durban that is owned by Jameson.

Her first four weeks at PDC was “all new territory for me”.

“Maybe not in terms of diving in the waters, but now to dive with commercial diving equipment and completing theoretical exams. It was both challenging and exhilarating. During training, there was new information which I found extremely interesting that covered diving physics, anatomy, barotrauma, compressors and gas handling.”

Some of her practical training included night dives and procedures, usage of hydraulic tools, under water welding, navigation, underwater searches, hull cleaning, water jettying, usage of pneumatic tools and some basic rigging.

Never doubt yourself, keep pushing

Manikkam said that during her lessons, she had to face a man in her class who doubted her abilities based on her gender.

“He made it clear I wouldn’t and could not perform or complete my task. He tried on many occasions to break my spirit. However, I had confidence in my ability and thankfully proved him wrong.”

She finished second in her exams which included gruelling tasks such as a swim test, among others.

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Speaking about the naysayer in her class, Manikkam said: “He always undermined my ability on many things until I had passed that class and went on to the next. That was a life lesson. Never doubt yourself.”

Hoping to inspire other women, she said: “Life goals and opportunities are endless. You can only push your limit once you discover it with direction, discipline and determination.”

Manikkam said the Durban harbor was built in 1855 and that it took a long time for women to push through into the diving field.


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