Tendai Rupapa–Senior Reporter
FIRST Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa on Monday hosted a dinner at State House in honour of history making female officer graduate Air Lieutenant Gamuchirai Maria Mbigi who for the first time in the history of the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) was awarded a Sword of Honour, an award for exceptional performance in flight training.
For her exploits, Air Lieutenant Mbigi 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 last month.
Initially, Class 68 had 20 cadets, 15 being male while five were female. Four fell by the wayside while one of the cadets perished in an air crash with a flight instructor this year.
The First Lady who has a passion for the empowerment of women and youths said Air Lieutenant Mbigi’s achievement was a giant step for all the girl children in Zimbabwe.
She implored young women in the country to stay away from vices such as drugs and early marriages so that they may reach their full potential and contribute to the country’s development.
In her remarks, Amai Mnangagwa said on September 3, a new chapter was written in the history of the Air Force of Zimbabwe and the nation when Air Lieutenant Mbigi became the first female student pilot to be awarded the Sword of Honour.
She said Air Lieutenant Mbigi had done all women in the country proud.
“Ini ndakamirira anamai vese vemunyika yedu yeZimbabwe watipa chimiro mwanangu sana amai vako,” said the First Lady.
“I am informed that this award is the highest honour only awarded to the most exceptional student during the flying training course. On learning of such a remarkable achievement by Air Lieutenant Mbigi I was very proud and I thought that while this was an individual accolade, it was a giant step for all the girl children in Zimbabwe.
“This dinner is therefore in honour of Air Lieutenant Mbigi for the historic achievement and it is also a celebration of the commitment shown by the Air Force of Zimbabwe to affording women equal opportunities over the past years.”
The First Lady humbly asked the AFZ commander to increase the number of female students on future courses.
Training of Number 68 pilots training course, the First Lady said, was broken into three distinct phases.
The first phase, she said was aimed at transforming civilian recruits into military officers and instilling discipline.
“The syllabus for this phase is similar to the one for officer cadet training at the Zimbabwe Military Academy and it covers such subjects as foot drill, weaponry, military tactics, map reading and parachute jumping among others.
“On completion of the officer cadet training, the course advanced to the last two phases of training that focus on training the officers to become military pilots. In the second phase of training, the student completed the academic phase of aviation ground training,” she said.
“In view of such demands of the course, I wish to extend my hearty congratulations to all the 15 pilots here today who successfully completed the course with special mention to Air Lieutenant Mbigi for her torch-bearing efforts.
“Mbigi’s male counterparts, how did you feel when she scored higher and became the best pilot? I would like to encourage you to help, support and uplift each other when one of you is failing to grasp the concepts or not performing well.”
“Work as a team to boost each other’s morale so that you all achieve your goals not leaving one behind,” she said.
The First Lady said she had moved around the country and interacted with many young girls and in all these places they had shown great determination to achieve their goals with their request being to get equal opportunities and support.
“I therefore wish to commend the Commander AFZ, Air Marshal Elson Moyo for showing the nation and indeed the rest of the world what women can do when given the opportunities and necessary support,” she said.
Squadron leader Angeline Bosha, the first female fighter jet pilot also attended the dinner.
Speaking at the same occasion, Defence and War Veterans Affairs Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri said Zimbabwe owed it to his Excellency the President for opening doors for womankind.
“Her unparalleled achievement is testimony that a girl child can equally outperform her male counterparts in any sphere of study or work particularly in a field regarded as male domain. When you are educating a girl child, you are educating the nation. The recognition of her efforts in this special way will no doubt spur her to even work harder in her military career and inspire other girl children,” she said.
She said Air Lieutenant Mbigi’s success story resonated well with the First Lady’s passion and strides she is making towards the girl child through her Angel of Hope Foundation.
Speaking at the dinner, AFZ Commander Air Marshal Moyo said when most people were confronted with seemingly insurmountable challenges, the easiest option was to give up and watch events unfold.
“On the contrary, Amai, you have defied the odds by charting the difficult path of reaching out and empowering people and communities so that they overcome their difficult circumstances.
“Armed with this knowledge on how demanding your work is, it is most humbling Your Excellency that you found it worthy to host this dinner in honour of Air Lieutenant Mbigi for her historic feat in the Air Force of Zimbabwe and the nation at large,” he said.
Air Marshall Moyo said the biggest challenges confronting the nation and the world was attaining gender equality in the workplaces and homes.
“It is therefore heartening to note that among your many noble causes, you have made the question of the girl-child your top priority. This dinner is one such testimony of your unwavering commitment to uplifting women and the girl-child so that the vision of gender equality will become a reality,” he said.
The Air Marshall said the AFZ had implemented all Government policies in line with gender mainstreaming in recruitment, training and career progression.
“As a result we have over the past years seen young women such as Air Lieutenant Mbigi rewriting the gender narratives by excelling in flying and other trades that were previously perceived as the preserve for males,” he said.
Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet Dr Misheck Sibanda praised the First Lady for always standing ready to appreciate in a big way any deserving accomplishment by the nation’s sons and daughters.
“Allow me to pay tribute to her Excellency, the First Lady Amai Mnangagwa for hosting this dinner in recognition of Air Lieutenant Mbigi’s achievement. Indeed, as the mother of the nation you have proved beyond reasonable doubt that you are not only a philanthropist, health ambassador and champion of the revival of our cultural heritage in various forms, but also a champion of the cause of women and the girl child,” he said.
Air Lieutenant Mbigi was on cloud nine over the First Lady’s gesture.
“I would like to thank the First Lady Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa for hosting this dinner for me and my fellow course mates. It is such an honour to be recognised by the mother of the nation. I would like to thank the support that I got from my course mates, my instructors, Air Force of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Defence Forces,” she said.
In her words to the girl child she said: “I would like to tell them that you can achieve anything if you believe in yourself. If you tell yourself that I am facing this and I would like to tackle this problem you just need to have the confidence, you need to work hard and you need to pray.”
Her mother Mrs Evelyn Mbigi was equally ecstatic and thanked the President for paving way for the empowerment of the girl child through sound policies.
“I would want to thank his Excellency for his able leadership which has ensured that peace prevails in the country. Briefly on Gamuchirai, Gamuchirai is the last born of seven children. She is just like her siblings. They were all very hardworking and they did very well at school. Gamuchirai learnt at Tongogara for her O’Level and then she went to Holy Cross in Chirumhanzu where she did her A-Level and whilst she was there, they managed to see her leadership qualities, she was a senior prefect. I would like to thank His Excellency for giving the girl child equal opportunities,” she said.
She also thanked the defence forces leadership and the First Lady for honouring her daughter.
“On behalf of all parents whose children were in Pilot course number 68, we would like to thank the First Lady for inviting us all with my children to come here. As Gamuchirai’s parents we are truly thankful on behalf of other parents who could not make it here,” she said.