Fatima Jakoet: A Profile of a Superhuman

Fatima Jakoet was always a dreamer and dreamt of becoming many things. Over the years, her dreams changed from becoming a pilot to becoming a doctor to then becoming an astronaut and then back to becoming a pilot. Things, however, did not work out the way she had planned—not in that order anyway. Yes, she did become an airline pilot, and a chemist, and a Harvard graduate, and in general, something that can only be described as ‘Superhuman’.

As a little girl growing up in Wellington, Fatima would sit in the yard, searching the skies for a Boeing. She would get so excited when a plane approached that she would call all the children in her neighborhood to come and see. She thought the aeroplane would bring her something special, like a baby brother or sister, because that’s where, according to little Fatima, babies came from.

During her high school years, she started thinking seriously about her future and decided to pursue Medicine, but her longing to be a pilot lingered. What sums her up perfectly is that she specifically dreamt of flying all over Africa with her plane filled with medical supplies to help and heal all the people who didn’t have access to proper medical care.

After Matriculating, she applied to study Medicine, but was disappointed when she wasn’t accepted. However, that didn’t get her down for long. She registered for a degree in Chemistry and after graduating, worked for the National Health Department and SAPS Forensic Laboratory as a Specialist in Toxicology and Narcotics.  As part of her work, Fatima served as a Forensic witness in many drug-related cases. These cases made her realise how lucky she was to have parents that encouraged and supported her in every way they could, something many kids do not have. Her job also brought her face to face with her first love—Aeroplanes. During a drug bust at Cape Town International Airport, she saw the plane on the tarmac, and she could almost hear it whispering, “Fatima, come fly me”. Filled with hope, she went home and immediately started looking at advertisements for flight schools.

Her dream of becoming a pilot didn’t take flight as easily as she had hoped. Her application to cadet school was rejected but she didn’t let that make her feel disheartened for too long. What gave her the courage to apply again was her late grandfather, Abraham Phillips, who inspired her to not give up by simply telling her, “My girl, you will get in”. She reapplied just before he passed on, and even though she started cadet school after his passing, she knows that had he been here today, he would have been extremely proud of all that she has achieved.

After 16 grueling months of training, tests, interviews and going through a selection process, Fatima was one of the 16 applicants who was selected out of 6000 applicants. She entered the cadet programme as a Cadet Pilot at the BAE Flight Training College in Adelaide, Australia. The cadet programme consisted of 4 phases, and a cadet had to pass each phase with a pass rate of 75%̶̶ ̶̶̶ which she did.  Of course, it became difficult at times and when Fatima struggled, she would remind herself that this was her dream and she had to work hard for it! After all the blood, sweat and tears, she graduated with a Commercial Pilot’s License , obtaining above 75% in each phase.

When she returned to South Africa in 2002, the newly graduated Fatima was awarded with an internship at Airlink. She took to the skies, logged 200 hours, and in no time she was flying a 29 seater, 11 ton aeroplane. Fatima admits that it was challenging at times, especially for a newcomer, but she had great mentors at the Airline who guided her throughout her journey. After her Airlink internship, she achieved her ultimate dream—in 2005, she was appointed as a Pilot for South African Airways. She started off flying the Boeing 747-400 locally and a year later, the Airbus 340 series, where she now operated international routes. Fatima, who is a Senior First Officer, currently operates the Airbus 320 and is based in Cape Town.  Of course, her journey of obtaining Superhuman status does not end here.

In 2009, Fatima graduated with her MBA at the University of Stellenbosch Business School and achieved a distinction for her thesis entitled: “A safety culture survey amongst Aircraft Maintenance Engineers”. She has since been actively involved in activities of Stellenbosch University and was appointed as brand ambassador for Stellenbosch University in 2013. Shortly after graduating with her MBA, Fatima started a foundation called “Sakhikamva, to encourage learners from Grade1-12 to learn about the flight industry. The main aim of the Foundations is to bring this experience and this technology to rural communities and disadvantaged learners so that they also have the opportunity to explore science. To date the Sakhikamva Foundation has reached more than 70 000 learners and has run more than 12 programs and projects. The Foundation currently runs seven programmes which include the Robotics Workshops, Model Aircraft Building Courses, the Paper Jet Competition, and the Wings2Fly Campaign. The foundation has also established a scholarship in partnership with Morningstar Flight Academy and formed strategic partnerships with Universities to ensure that enough opportunities are available for the future youth in the aerospace industry. However, her list of extraordinary achievements does not end here.

In 2015, Fatima developed and launched the world’s first ‘Science Technology Robotics Engineering Aerospace and Mathematics’ laboratory where youth can develop and nurture their existing skills. One of the awesome features of the laboratory is a small, life-sized airplane which disadvantaged pupils rebuilt by hand. The airplane features a flight simulator and offers a realistic flying experience to the pupils.  In addition, she also received a Harvard African Scholarship in 2016, completing the Program for Leadership development and in 2017, she was appointed as the Director of Business Development at ‘Cape Aerospace Technologies’.

Just because Fatima’s dream of flying a plane filled with medical supplies to help those in need didn’t go as planned, doesn’t mean that it didn’t come true. Yes, she did become an airline pilot, and a chemist, and a forensic scientist, and an MBA graduate, and a Harvard graduate, and a ‘world first innovator’ and a philanthropist, and a Director and in general, a Superhuman, but she is so much more than that. She is a genuinely good human being, and perhaps, at the end of the day, that is all that matters.