Born in a family of three, Chipo decided at an early age that she was going to be a pilot. 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.
Interviewer: Redeem Govathson
Chipo, I am really excited to be conducting this interview. I have known you since high school and I could tell even back then that you were aiming for the sky – I just didn’t know that it was in the literal sense! I do not imagine that your journey to becoming a pilot has been an easy one. Please take us through this journey from the time you made the decision that you were going to be a pilot to the point where you are now?
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; I have enjoyed over a thousand hours of flying the airline’s regional & domestic routes to date. 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.
There are some career choices which well-meaning friends and family tend to resist. Would you say decision to become a pilot was one of those? If so, please describe some of the resistance you faced and how you managed to overcome?
I definitely faced some resistance from well-meaning people. The most common concern which was highlighted was how, in the long run, I would balance work and family. I did not think it a concern I could address at the time or even now because it would be difficult to take measures for a situation that does not exist. My opinion is that being successful in the home front has more to do with balance than career choice. I say this from an inexperienced standpoint but this is the view that allowed me to get past the misconception that women cannot excel at both and continue on my path of what I wanted. I call it a misconception based on the fact that there are women who I know who have managed to strike a good balance. So, whilst I do not entirely dismiss these concerns, I believe when the time comes I will do what I need to ensure the things that matter to me do not suffer. If needs be, I will make the necessary adjustments.
Training to be a pilot is extremely expensive. There are some young people who may want to venture into that field but have no clue as to how to fund the programme. Do you have any advice that you can give to young people who may not be privileged enough to fund themselves?
You are right, Redeem, it’s a relatively expensive program and unfortunately, in Zimbabwe, the opportunities for sponsorship have become scarce. I would suggest breaking down the training to smaller affordable chunks, for example, if the money permits one to get as far as the Private Pilot’s License, then go for it. When money becomes available for the next phase, one can continue. It would take longer but it is certainly a means to an end.
What does a typical working day look like for you?
Well I don’t actually have what I can call a “typical” day. My days vary depending on the flight I’m scheduled for. For my shortest schedule, I’m at work by as early as 5.30am and back by 9.30am, ready to head home. This is my favourite because my day is done quickly. On other days, I am at work from 10.00am to 9:30pm. Each day is so different which is great because it certainly combats monotony.
If you could say anything to your younger self…
I would commend myself for the friends I chose. My “inner circle.” When you are young, your friends are a great influence and the company you keep is a huge contributor to the person you become as an adult. I appreciate the friends I made because they helped me stay on track of where I wanted to go and who I wanted to become.
Would you rather fly day or night? I would rather fly during the day.
If I could sit next to anyone of my choice on a long haul flight it would be… Nick Vujicic. I’d definitely leave with some of that positivity rubbed on. I am sure I would learn how to embrace the circumstances I cannot change and perhaps learn a lesson or two on how to live a life of no worries.
If I had not become a pilot I would have become … an Art teacher
Favourite Destination… Right now I’m dreaming of going to the Maldives for a (minimum) 2 week vacation
Motivation in 3 words… Follow your dreams!