African women urged to spread their wings | Africa | DW | 11.03.2013
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African women urged to spread their wings

It was an early victory for gender equality in 1911 when Harriet Quimby became the first woman to gain a pilot's license. A century later, a celebrated businesswoman is helping African women to take the controls.

Being a woman in Africa has long been associated with giving birth to children and bringing them up, but nothing else. So there are some jobs for women and other jobs for men. But this is slowly changing as more women gain entry into the male-dominated professions, with or without the assistance of men .

Born in Johannesburg, Samkelisiwe Sibeko, was just like any other girl in the neighborhood - she had a dream. She wanted to become an engineer when she grew up.

But her dream was shattered when her mother, who was the breadwinner, died and left her alone with a little sister. Samkelisiwe had to live with her aunt.

"Yeah, I was with my aunt, and she was working at the laundry. She got three kids and us two, me and my sister then we were five kids," Samkelisiwe sighed.

With that money she earned Samkelisiwe's aunt had "to pay for transport, and school fees for us, buying food for us, clothes, it was tough."

A life-changing encounter

Despite that sudden change in her life Samkelisiwe didn't give up her dream of achieving what she wanted. She worked hard in school and eventually got a diploma in business studies.

Samkelisiwe Sibeko in the cockpit. Photo: Asumpta Lattus / Samkelisiwe Sibeko 03/2013

Samkelisiwe Sibeko is one of the few women in Africa who have pilot licenses

Her life took a new turn on the day she met Sibongile Sambo who made it possible for her to qualify for a pilot's license. Because of the cost involved, Samkelisiwe had previously never dreamt to become a pilot.

"Because I was from a poor family background and to me it was, I don't know what to say! It was really a surprise."

Sibongile Sambo is the founder and managing director of SRS Aviation, probably the first 100 percent black female-owned aviation company in the world. She is now one of South Africa's most respected black female businesswomen and entrepreneurs.

Loved planes

Born in 1974 in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, she was the first black woman in South Africa to own an aviation company, a business mainly dominated by men. Ever since she was a child, Sibongile has loved planes.

"And I used to see airplanes flying in and out, my home is next to an air force base," Sambo said.

"So I would see airplanes flying in and out and you know just stop and wonder what these machines are and telling myself that one day I will have access to them" she added.

In 2004 she founded SRS aviation which offers professional and personalized air charter services including VIP, tourist, cargo and helicopter flights.

Sibingile Sambo, Founder of SRS aviation company. Photo: Asumpta Lattus / Sibongile Sambo 03/2013

Sibongile Sambo owns what is probably the first 100 percent black female owned aviation company in the world

Two years later, she won the Black Woman in Business Award in London, and she became the Impumelelo Top Female Entrepreneur of the year.

In 2007 she was a finalist at the Cosmopolitan Movers of the year and in 2010 she was awarded the international Women's Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC), which is backed the US State Department.

The world knows her as businesswoman, entrepreneur and a motivational speaker, but this is how she describes herself.

"I am a goal getter, from childhood, spontaneous, for example when Mummy calls "can somebody give me something to wipe the table with?"

Sibongile says she has been a proactive kind of a person since she was a little girl.

"When everybody else is dragging their feet, Sibongile would be the one jumping up first to go and get it."

The urge to "go get it" is what keeps Sambo moving forward. She said it is very important in life to ignore "negative sounds" in order to succeed. And this is what she would like to wish all women in the world as they commemorate International Women's Day.

Apart from being a businesswoman, Sibongile is also involved in mentoring young women, helping them become pilots, leaders and entrepreneurs.

She does that because she believes in women and she thinks that women are the movers of the world, but they have to take the first step if they want to achieve what they want.

"Nobody will see you if you are sitting in your own corner. You have to go out there, you have to be visible, to do something to be able to get even more support and assistance," she said.

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