First black woman hot air balloon pilot aims for the skies

“The first time I went up into a hot air balloon, I fell completely in love. I also wanted to fly one!”

Semakaleng Mathebula

And 27-year-old Semakaleng Mathebula did… she is South Africa’s first black female hot air balloon pilot, one of only a few women participating in the niche sport and is aiming for the skies during the South African Hot Air Balloon Championship this month.

It all started when she started working in the marketing department at Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris in Hartbeespoort in 2019. “I grew up in Garankuwa and had never seen a hot air balloon before. I was fascinated. During my first week, Bill and Mary Harrop took me up and I fell completely in love. And as if it was meant to be, a few months later the Department of Sport and Recreation and the Balloon and Airship Federation of South Africa (BAFSA) announced training grants to encourage young people to get involved in the sport. And of course, I applied!”

She was one of only three aspiring hot air balloon pilots selected for the grant to train at BAFSA’s balloon training school. “I received my licence in November 2021 and everything just fell into place. I now have my private pilot licence and am putting in as many hours in the sky as possible to get my commercial licence. I have 70 hours to go,” she laughs. She is also planning on getting involved in training other young aspiring hot air balloon pilots.

She currently works as a customer resolution agent at Ford and flies family and friends to the Magaliesburg area in her free time.

Semakaleng Mathebula has taken to the sky (Photo: Reuters)

“My goal is to make hot air ballooning a career and I am working hard to achieve that. I am very proud of myself for having achieved this and for being an ambassador for the sport. I still sometimes have to pinch myself to make sure it is real. I am realising a dream.”