By CHRISTINE MWAABA –
“I LOOK at the fact that when I am in the aeroplane, the aircraft knows no sex as it depends on my input even if I am a woman. I can also give it the right steering for it to respond correctly.”
This perception originates from 24-year old Zambia Air Force Officer (ZAF) Second Lieutenant Thokozile Muwamba who reigns as Zambia’s first female fighter pilot.
Lt Muwamba has finally made history for many to appreciate and acknowledge that she is one of a myriad of women vying for a job once believed to be a male monopoly.
The determined fighter pilot has made an incredible stride in making her way to recognition by proving that women can take up male dominated jobs than previously thought.
Conquering the awesome skies has not been seen as a feat meant for the average woman who, according to local tradition, has her place tied to the kitchen.
Born in 1992 from a family of six, Lt Muwamba completed her junior secondary at Kasisi and later finished her senior secondary school at David Kaunda Technical High.
Getting 13 points after completing her Grade 12 was the beginning of an unbelievable career journey that was nothing but a humbling experience and bravery of the young woman who believed in her dream.
She stopped her first Degree studies in Mathematics and Science at the Copperbelt University (CBU) which only lasted for one academic year in 2011 to pursue her dream career.
Her stay at the university was an alternative she found as she did not have adequate finances to pursue her dream profession.
As a Mathematics and Science student, she made every effort and established herself in the first academic year before life took a dramatic turn.
When she heard that the ZAF was enrolling, she applied and was among officer cadets selected in 2012.
Lt Muwamba had to quit her university education and chase her dream of becoming a fighter pilot.
Her first encounter with one of the officers in Kitwe during recruitment interviews was one that encouraged her even more.
She recalled being asked if she was aware of what it took to be a fighter pilot. She was told that it was not an easy task but one that was supersonic.
“I told the interviewer that all I wanted to be was a fighter pilot and fly a fighter aircraft one day,” she said.
After the recruitment interview, she waited for her confirmation and was later selected to finally join ZAF.
She undertook normal ZAF military training and further went for flying training to actualise her childhood fantasy.
It was not easy for her to learn how to fly but she had to master the techniques of flying an aircraft until she flew the plane.
She recalled that her first flight was overwhelming even though she was scared and nervous.
But at the end of the flight, the smile on her face was like nothing had happened.
Lt Muwambwa said impossibilities can be made possible as long as one was determined to attain one’s goal.
Her career choice was greatly inspired by her auntie, Major Tiza Mumbi, who encouraged her to aim for her goals, work hard at each goal and achieve it.
The fact that she had a strong willed aunt who was also a pilot at the time gave her a career boost and encouraged her to do better.
Lt Muwambwa was also taught that she could achieve more and inspire other people by not just being a pilot but a fighter pilot.
She said she did not only make major achievements on her own but with the help of instructors who managed to get the best out of her.
“I am very thankful to my instructors who have greatly helped me to be where I am today and have believed in my ability,” she said.
The young woman’s instructors have created a favourable environment that has made it possible for her to fit in as the first female fighter pilot.
She said time had come for the womenfolk to begin taking the male folk as their counterparts and not consider them as competition.
“Men are not a competition but counterparts that one should work with, and hence women should begin to participate and realise their abilities. Because of this understanding, I am ready to undertake this task ahead of me,” she said.
Every typical day for Lt Muwamba starts a day before for her pilot preparation for each day.
Her mornings begin with a few exercises to awaken the brain then afterwards go for the pre-flight medicals.
Thereafter, she goes for pilot briefing which outlines the flight profile of the day.
After carrying out her flights for that particular day, Lt Muwamba goes for debriefing to look at how the flight exercise was conducted in order to keep the standards of safety.
Her goal each day is to ensure that she delivers a good service.
Lt Muwamba acknowledged that working hard was what placed her where she has reached in her career.
She appreciated her parents for recognising the importance of education and support they have given her since the inception of her journey to becoming a fighter pilot.
She paid tribute to her father, Richard Muwamba, for supporting her dream.
Her special acknowledgements went to her late mother, Patience Masani Pasi, and her uncle, Colonel Passmore Madula Pasi who were of great inspiration to her. She said their contribution helped change her life tremendously.
Lt Muwambwa was also thankful to ZAF for supporting her efforts and helping her realise her dream of becoming a fighter pilot who is now recognised by many Zambians as a woman of exception.
Having pushed hard to attain her ultimate goal, the best results of Lt Muwambwa’s hard work has surely paid off.
Mumbwa based ZAF Air Officer Commanding Strike Command Brigadier-General Dan Chilufya Kapungwe expressed happiness that the air force was part of Zambia’s history-making achievement of recognising women’s abilities in various spheres.
Brigadier-General Kapungwe said having Lt Muwamba as the first female fighter pilot is a clear illustration that women were progressing.
He said ZAF was ready to support Lt Muwamba and bring out the best out of her.
“We want to see more women in the country to become fighter pilots in future,” he said.
It is imperative to realise that tapping young talent is certainly of great importance to the development of the country.
As for the trail blazing female fighter pilot, one would hope her achievement has gone leaps and bounds to inspire women.