The drug-busting pilot who beat prejudice from the skies
Engines roar as jets land and take off from the tarmac. Fatima Jakoet steps into the cockpit, adjusting her hijab and pilot’s cap. To her, this is the sound of adventure. Jakoet used to work as a toxicology and narcotics specialist. But while conducting a drug bust at an airport, she became transfixed by a Boeing 747. The sight flooded her with nostalgia of watching planes cross the sky as a little girl. Jakoet realised that she didn’t want to work alongside the aircraft – she wanted to fly it. But it would take a turbulent ride for her to reach that dream.
With sky high grades, a degree in chemistry, and experience with the National Health Department and South African Police Service, Jakoet knew she could do anything. She applied to the BAE Flight Training College in Australia, and passed every course with distinctions. In 2005, Captain Jakoet took to the skies, becoming the first South African Muslim woman to fly commercial airliners. It was a significant moment as in the years following the September 11 attacks, suspicion and prejudice were still rife. “It was very challenging being under a magnifying glass as a Muslim woman, to understand how other people view me and question my ability,” Jakoet says.
Even though others doubted her, Jakoet never let that hold her back. She went on to study towards an MBA, and received a scholarship from Harvard. If that doesn’t blow you away, Jakoet also founded the NPO Sakhikamva, which has helped over 50 000 students from disadvantaged communities take off. The foundation offers programmes like coding workshops, robotics development, and even boasts a life-sized flight simulator. “My hope is that I inspire a generation of young aviators and aerospace professionals,” Jakoet says. With her endless ambition and heart of gold, Jakoet is taking South Africa to higher altitudes every day.