Reaching for the skies

2014-04-10 00:00

FROM wannabe accountant to helicopter pilot.

This is the remarkable story of Zuziwe Mkhabela, one of 83 trainees who gradua­ted yesterday in various maritime-related disciplines from Transnet’s Maritime School of Excellence.

Mkhabela graduated with a B.Comm degree from UKZN in 2012 and had landed a one-year internship with the Treasury Department thinking it would pave the way for a career in commerce.

Mkhabela, like many unemployed graduates, worried about getting a permanent job and she battled to come to terms with the prospect of being jobless.

“I started talking to people and a colleague e-mailed me some forms which called for trainees in various fields in the maritime industry. I submitted my application and continued with my temporary job, all the time praying for a permanent job,” said Mkhabela.

“I knew what I wanted when I went to university, but the prospect of being unemployed was unbearable. When I was called for the interview and later for training I had a tough task of telling my family that I was going for training in a different field, but I had to do it. It wasn’t easy because I had just completed university, but I had to do it because I wanted employment.

“As usual my family was supportive. My mother, a teacher by profession, never stopped praying for my success in this new field,” she said.

One of Mkhabela’s challenges at the academy was to overcome the fear of being airborne, which took her some time to achieve. “It was worse when I had to fly solo for 100 hours. This was after some six months of gruelling theoretical training before we were introduced to the single engine R22, R44 and then the R44 helicopters. After these I flew the Bell 212 double engine helicopter. It’s still unbelievable that I can take this aircraft from the ground to the skies. Even my siblings still can’t believe it when they see the videos I sent them while I was still in training,” she said.

Mkhabela and the 82 other graduates were feted yesterday in the presence of Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba.

The 24-year-old from Richards Bay graduated as a helicopter pilot. She said she was never interested in piloting before, but now it feels like it’s the only thing she ever wanted to do. She was called for an interview in late 2012 and in December, eight months into her internship, she was called for training at the academy in Cape Town.

The academy spends R2 million on each helicopter pilot for the duration of the 16 months training, while R200 000 is spent on each trainee in other fields such as marine and terminal operations, port management and port engineering.

Herschel Maasdorp, head of the academy, said that in July they will have an intake of 140 trainees for modern marine and modern terminal operations. “We are making a significant impact in the transfer of skills but we’re not making a dent in dealing with unemployment.”

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