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Fastjet all-women crew makes flying history in Zimbabwe

By Mutsa Makuvaza

PAN-African budget carrier fastjet made its own history on Thursday when an all-female crew flew passengers on the Harare-Johannesburg-Harare-Victoria Falls-Harare round trip.

The trail-blazing pilot and former Air Zimbabwe captain Chipo Matimba captained the flight for the round trip while First Officer Chipo Gatsi, also formerly with Air Zimbabwe, was the first officer.

Aviation sources told the Zimbabwe Voice that Zimbabwe boasts only six female pilots: Chipo Matimba, Emilia Njovani, Merna Moore, Chipo Gatsi, Elizabeth Chikumba and Sithandekile Dube.

Who is Captain Chipo Matimba?

Captain Matimba epitomises women who know what they want and have vigorously pursued it without making patriarchy a scapegoat for goal attainment.

The daughter of Mandishona Donson Matimba and Anne Chipoyera of Harare, Captain Matimba was raised as one of the Matimbas’ nine children: five girls and boys.

As she recalled in a interview some years ago, the girls in her family were treated equally with boys as roles in the household were not allocated according to gender.

She attended Belvedere Primary School and from there went to Harare Girls High.

At the front is Captain Chipo Matimba, in the middle Rutendo Huni from the cabin crew and at the back is First Officer Chipo Gatsi.

“Soon after High School, I saw an advert for Air Force of Zimbabwe trainee pilots and I applied. l went through the recruitment formalities in 1994.

“The military training was gruesome but certainly not insurmountable. Being pioneers in this male dominated environment was a challenge, as many logistical changes had to be summounted in order to accommodate female cadets,” she said.

“The first six months was militarily training and the next six was ground school which comprises theory in aviation studies. The 12 months that followed covered flying lessons in general, handling instruments, navigation, formation and aerobatic flying.”

She is alive to the fact that girls and women in Zimbabwe and beyond look up to her for inspiration.

“The society in general, and my male counterparts in particular, accepted my venturing into military aviation, a career once only stereotyped for men and I feel very much at home in the aviation fraternity.  

Captain Chipo Matimba after flying the then President Robert Mugabe during her days at the Air Zimbabwe

“From my experience as both a military and an airline pilot, I believe any woman with focus and determination can take up the challenge.  All that’s needed is a lot of hard work and dedication,” she said.

“In the past, women were marginalised in many professions. With the advent of gender equality any woman can tackle any field successfully without fear of chauvinism.  Let’s stand up fellow ladies and be both seen and heard.”

This is not the first time Captain Matimba has had to fly all-women. In 2015, Captain Matimba and Elizabeth Simbi Petros flew a Boeing 737 from Harare to Victoria Falls becoming the first all-female flight crew. 

In 2017, then President Robert Mugabe returned to Zimbabwe from Mauritius on an Air Zimbabwe A320 Airbus flown once again by an all-female flight crew.

The crew was led by Chipo Matimba as captain, Sithandekile “Thandi” Dube as the first officer, Constance Masimbe and Mary Murimba as senior flight attendants. 

Who is First Officer Chipo Gatsi?

Born in a family of three, Chipo decided at an early age that she was going to be a pilot.

Her desire to fly dates back to her primary school days when she got an opportunity to get into the flight deck of a plane, when she was flying to Cape Town with her family.

She was fascinated by what she saw and her desire to want to fly never left her from then. It was inevitable therefore that when she completed her “A” levels in 2007, she began to do something about this desire and in 2008 she enrolled with a flying academy in South Africa.

First Officer Chipo Gatsi

Driven by her passion to fly, Chipo did not fall victim to the limitations society places on millennials and women in particular where career choices are concerned.

In 2017, she told a South African publication: “Within five months of graduating from High School, I had embarked on this journey to accomplish my lifelong dream of becoming a pilot.

“By the end of 2009, I had completed the Professional Pilot Course in Port Elizabeth, attaining a South African Commercial Pilots License with Multi-engine & Instrument ratings.

“I returned home immediately to convert my license under the Zimbabwean Air Laws and standards. In 2010, at the age of 20, I joined Air Zimbabwe as a First Officer and to date (2017), I have enjoyed over a thousand hours of flying the airline’s regional & domestic routes to date.

First Officer Chipo Gatsi

“As you can imagine, it has not been a walk in the park. I like to think of it as a roller coaster. Being a young woman of colour, you are inevitably subjected to negative stereotypes.

For one thing, the aviation industry is male dominated and in addition to that, black people are relatively few in the industry.  I felt I had something to prove from the questions, “can girls fly?” or “can black women fly?”.

“Believe it or not, there are people who still have reservations about a young black woman being a good pilot. I have learnt to go the extra mile and really push myself. Once you work on your competence, some of the negative stereotypes fall away.

“My focus is to continually get better at what I do and I can’t say it has not been paying off,” she said then.

As can be seen, these young female pilots are trailblazers whose achievements and motivation so far in their lives cannot be summarised in an article like this one. – Zimbabwe Voice / Agencies ■

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