Semakaleng (Sema) Mathebula, aspirant balloon pilot

By Willie Bodenstein

When in June 2018 Semakaleng (Sema) Mathebula was interviewed for the position of Marketing Assistant at Bill Harrop's "Original" Balloon Safari's, little did she realise that it would lead to a totally different career path.

Within an hour of concluding the interview, she received a call from Sarah Bauling of Bill Harrops informing her that the position was hers.

Coincidentally, the upcoming week was the 2018 Afrox South African Hot Air Balloon Championships and while her term with BHOBS only began in July, she was invited to the event and that led to her introduction into the sport of hot air ballooning. Sema, instantly fell in love with ballooning.

In the year to come, she quickly mastered the skills required for the day-to-day operation of balloons. Following on to engagements with the Balloon and Airship Federation of South Africa (BAFSA) on several occasions, Sema found herself as one of organisers of the 2019 BAFSA Nationals, again hosted at Bill Harrops.

Sema with BFSA chairman Richard Bovell and Hanke Fourie.

By then Sema, now firmly established in the industry, heard about a BAFSA and Department of Sports and Recreation scholarship to train upcoming balloon pilots. The scholarship hopes to not only expand the sport in the country but create a platform for previously disadvantaged youth to take part in sport ballooning and the aviation industry at large.

Sema, having been nominated by Bill Harrop and accompanied by a motivational letter from Marc Nuthall, the winner of numerous BAFSA Championships, she began taking steps towards acquiring her balloon pilot license.

Sema behind the burner during training.

Having passed her medical, the interview process for the scholarship began and she passed. She now had the opportunity, once qualified, of becoming the first black female Hot Air Balloon Pilot in South Africa. Having passed all her exams except for radio work, Sema and her instructor Flip Steyn, are making sure that her remaining lessons will make her attaining her goal a certainty.

Sema and Hanke Fourie were the pilots in ZS-HOI, the Aeroclub's Centenary Balloon during the tethered launch.

Sema is constantly reminded by those who have witnessed her journey that it is her passion for the sport that had led to her selection and the awarding of the scholarship. "I can only hope, "Sema said, "to use my time and experience to inspire others to follow in my footsteps so as to ensure a successful future for the sport at large. I also must thank my mom Sophy, for 'climbing aboard' yet another one of my life's adventures."

Watch this young lady, her passion and determination for ballooning is going to take her to great heights in the industry as well as the sport.

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