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South African oceanographer celebrates her ancestral lineage to the waters

UCT Dr Moagabo Ragoasha, taken at Milnerton Beach. JE’NINE MAY

UCT Dr Moagabo Ragoasha, taken at Milnerton Beach. JE’NINE MAY

Published Jun 18, 2022


Cape Town - In a world where it is said that everything happens for a reason, an error in Moagabo Ragoasha registration form indeed set the path for her to discover her ancestral lineage.

Ragoasha, who had never heard of oceanography before, came to UCT to study astrophysics. However, a simple slip found her registered for atmospheric sciences, and among the suite of allied subjects, oceanography was one of them.

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As the brief description of the course took her back to her school days and Sunday afternoons immersed in BBC nature programmes on SABC, Ragoasha said that she soon started taking interest after registering, and after attending several classes, she fell in love with oceanography and a passion for it grew on her.

“I am from Limpopo, where the nearest ocean is 900km away in Durban. I never knew much about the ocean besides watching it on TV so I had no exposure about marine science careers.

“I never heard about oceanography before arriving at UCT, and the mistake I made on my application, looking at it now, really showcased how the ocean called me to it,” said Ragoasha.

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Moagabo Ragoasha at Milnerton Beach. JE’NINE MAY

Defending her PhD in 2020, her doctoral research focused on regional ocean modelling, the southern Benguela current upwelling system, Lagrangian transport modelling, and coastal ocean dynamics.

During her studies, she crossed oceans several times as the Department of Oceanography had strong links to the University of Western Brittany, in France, which offered staff and student exchanges.

She was selected from a highly competitive pool of young researchers from the Global South to do part of her honours in France, Ragoasha spent half of each year at UCT and half in France.

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Now a lecturer in the oceanography department, Ragoasha said the reason why studying the oceans resonated with her is because ocean currents are able to break barriers and connect different systems like a conveyor belt.

“Ocean currents describe the movement of water from one location to another transporting energy and material. Like a ripple, they can travel long distances carrying information about their point of origin and their understanding is important because They influence where fisheries can be found and our weather and climate.

“My research interests include the ocean and atmospheric modelling of the South African economic exclusive zone (EEZ), the physical connectivity between Agulhas and the Benguela system, and the anthropogenic influences on the coastal environment.

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“ I study the ocean currents on the west coast of South Africa, what drives them and their influence on important ecological processes, including the dispersal of marine larvae.

“This work is important because having a better understanding of our ocean is necessary to anticipate climate changes and, therefore, to provide a sound knowledge-base from which to develop social and environmental management, mitigation and adaptation strategies,” said Ragoasha.

Moagabo Ragoasha at Milnerton Beach. JE’NINE MAY

As Ragoasha continued to pursue her career with great passion in the same year she defended her PhD, she was called to continue a family cultural and spiritual responsibility as a traditional healer.

Recalling how she became aware of her calling in dreams, Ragoasha said that she went to see a sangoma to feed her curiosity.

“I found out about my calling out of curiosity, I went to see a sangoma and to my surprise, the sangoma told me everything about myself, and even explained the headaches and lower abdominal pains that I struggled with, which doctors could not explain.

“She even mentioned the dreams that I would have, I grew up having dreams and they will happen. I found out that I was born with the calling and that my great- great-father was a well-known sangoma in the village and that my mother didn’t finish hers (so I got it from both sides of the family).

“My career ties with my calling because I have a water- based (dams, rivers & oceans) calling (idlozi lamanzi Mndau).”

Following Ragoasha’s journey, spokesperson for the African National Healers Association, Mkhulu Majola, who is also known as Dr Mvoko, said that Ragoasha had been at the right place and at the right time.

“Ragoasha had been at the right place and at the right time in her journey of understanding the depths of her calling. This is special because not only does her scientific work link to understand how the universe works to understand what her ancestor have for her.

“My input or view on this story is that she is one of the privileged as in our culture or spiritual world, we refer people who uses a lot of water as people who have a water spirit and that spirit is highly respected

“The misconception around this especially in Africa is a lot, but it is important to remember to keep an open mind, especially from our community and society at large because it starts with us understanding who we are as a human race,” said Majola.

Reflecting on her journey, Ragoasha said that following your dreams is as literate as it gets.

“I have found out that if you fight for your dreams, the people around you will see your drive and help you along. Coming from the dusty streets of my village, I never thought that I would end up being a lecturer at the top university in Africa. Also, I wanted for people to inform themselves about African spirituality as there are a lot of misconceptions out there.

“Being a sangoma doesn’t mean that I am not a critical thinker, I am still a scientist. I am an academic and I am learning to consolidate the two lives. I haven’t lost any of myself, I in fact gained a new perspective and a change in my general attitude toward life,” said Ragoasha.

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