A lot has been written about...

What does an intern do?



Original Post

.....mentoring, from deep academic literature to the more casual publications. Mentoring is an important facet of life and can be done in a formal, structured way, or in a very informal way. My purpose is not to get involved in a deep discussion about mentoring, its advantages and disadvantages, the best methods to use, or any of the other information that you should be able to get at the click of a button from the internet. I want to tell you a little of my own journey and why I believe that it is important.

I was 38 when I joined the then Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. I started working in a field where I had very little expertise – groundwater. I felt that I had something to prove, to catch up with my peers, as it were. Today, I am grateful for the formal mentor that I had been assigned to at the time – Paul Seward – for leading my introduction into groundwater. He had an immense wealth of knowledge, having worked at DWS for so long. His guidance was gentle, leaving me to develop at my own pace and just pulling me back when I strayed too far of course. We had our good times and our misunderstandings – I can’t call them anything other than misunderstandings, but in the end it ruined our relationship. I was fortunate to get another mentor in Bayanda Zenzile and later Mike Smart. Each of them taught me something unique – linked to their own experience – and it helped me to develop as a professional. I am grateful for the formal mentors that I had during my career at DWS. I am, however, just as grateful for the informal mentors.

Nebo Jovanovich provided me a sounding board when I was busy with my masters in Geohydrology, taking time out of his busy schedule to listen to my ideas and give advice. There were the consultants, other DWS officials and just normal everyday encounters that helped to shape me, my understanding of groundwater and water management, as well as my work ethic. People like Rowena Hay, Julian Conrad, Isa Thompson, Piet Havenga, Henry de Haast, Fanus Fourie, Kornelius Riemann, Gareth McConkey, Gerhard van Tonder, Danie Vermeulen, Gideon Steyl, Gideon Tredoux, Eddy van Wyk, Ernst Bertrand, Roger Parsons, and many others, played an important part in my development. A lot of the contacts were fleeting, short-term, like Douglas Cherry – who shared with me his understanding of the Colenso Fault System. Others were more long-term and became friends, showing how mentorship relationships tend to change over time. I still try to stay in contact with most, but I have unfortunately lost contact with others.

One of the most important things to remember from mentorship relationships, is that it is not a one-way relationship and as mentioned above, it may change over time. Here are a few things to remember:

  • Circumstances may cause the relationship to end due to various reasons – remember to be grateful for what you have learned and don’t bear grudges if it ended negatively. Bearing grudges will only hold you back.
  • The relationship may also be turned on its head from time to time, where the mentor becomes the mentee and vice versa. Treat the change with graciousness, be thankful for your opportunities and growth and treat the other partner with respect.
  •  Time you have spent in the development of another person is an investment in their development and future. Do it well, and you may be receiving the dividends in the end. This does not mean that they owe you something, that they are in your debt. Celebrate their growth and independence. Set them free.
  • And if someone invest time (or more) in your growth and development, recognise it, and give them credit for the role that they played in your live. It does not mean that you are in their debt for the rest of your life, and that you need to give them your unquestionable loyalty. The beauty of a mentorship relationship is the fact that it changes and that it should empower you to become your best self, an independent individual that can ask questions – sometimes difficult ones – and that you can go out and function on your own.

Mentorship is a way of sharing knowledge, capacity building of sorts, because you cannot take all the knowledge with you. The only way you can ensure that it lives forever, is to share it with the next generation. This is one of the reasons why the GWD decided to start a mentorship programme. Another reason is to help young professionals in their development and to make it easier for them to get their professional registration.


We will be sending you further communication in this regard soon, and invite you to be part of the process.

Nicolette Vermaak