Fungi Kwaramba and Freedom Mupanedemo
For the first time in the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) history, the Sword of Honour, an award for exceptional performance in flying training was yesterday presented to a female officer graduate Air Lieutenant Gamuchirai Maria Mbigi.
For her exploits, she became the leader of her class, which had 15 graduates who were commissioned and presented with wings by President Mnangagwa at Josiah Tungamirai Airbase in Gweru yesterday.
“Let this be an inspiration to the girl child. With hard work and focus, nothing is impossible,” the President said.
Out of the 15 graduates, four were female and top awards were swept by the female officer.
In an interview, Air Lt Mbigi said she was determined to soar higher.
“This has boosted my confidence and I am happy that I can be an inspiration to other young ladies that you can achieve anything if you are dedicated, hard working and disciplined. They need to know that no matter how challenging a career is, they can do it if they put their mind to it.”
Initially, class 68 which graduated yesterday had 20 cadets. Four fell by the wayside while one of the cadets perished in an air crash along with a flight instructor this year.
“We are treated the same (during training), there is nothing different, you just have to feel you are in it, you are not segregated neither do you feel different,” said Air Lt Mbigi.
The Gweru-born 25-year-old pilot said she likes to overcome challenges, no matter how big they were and that is what drove her to apply to become a trainee pilot.
“I personally like challenges. Being a pilot is quite challenging, it needs you to be dedicated, to be disciplined, to be focused,” she said.
Drawing inspiration from Chipo Matimba, who joined the AFZ as an officer cadet and trainee pilot in 1994, and became the first woman to successfully complete a pilot training course in the AFZ in 1996, Air Lt Mbigi said for any young woman, there was no limit to the sky.
“Chipo used to be here as a pilot then she moved to the civilian world, but she was an inspiration to us. She was a good fighter jet pilot. Here, you hear people talking about her in a good way and that drove me to want to be like her,” she said.
But how exactly did Air Lt Mbigi find her way to Josiah Tungamirai Airbase as a cadet with a mission to take to the skies?
“I saw an advertisement and I said let me go for it because I thought it was challenging,” she said.
Born in 1996 in Gweru, Air Lt Mbigi grew up in the mining town of Shurugwi, which is just a few kilometres from the Midlands capital. She did her Form 1 to 4 at Tongogara High School.
“I proceeded to A-Level at Holy Cross Mission in Chirumhanzi, soon after I saw an advert and I applied to the Air Force of Zimbabwe,” she said.
Defence and War Veterans Affairs Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, who witnessed the pilot graduation, was full of praises for Air Lt Mbigi.
She said: “We want to congratulate the girl child, who has demonstrated that they can perform better than the boy child.”
Minister Muchinguri said the Government was determined to give women equal opportunities and urged fellow women to take up challenging tasks.
“By according women equal opportunities within the air force itself, we are sending a very clear message that the Government is keen to give everyone regardless of sex, equal opportunities,” she said.
As the graduates, who were dressed in the AFZ azure colours marched in synchronised motion, proud parents cheered on, with one remarking that the Air Force way was the only way she could ensure her child became a pilot. The other way is too expensive for many.
Air Lt Mbigi’s father, Mr Godfrey Mbigi said he was very proud of his daughter’s feat.
“She is my last born in a family of seven and she has done us proud. She was very disciplined, intelligent, very reserved and we hope she will continue on the right track as she serves the country in her capacity as a pilot in the AFZ,” he said.