How do you get one over your dread of heights? If you’re twenty seven year old, Semakaleng Remofilwe Mathebula, you set your sights on becoming South Africa’s First Black Hot Air Balloon Pilot – and then do it.

Semakaleng never thought her politics honours would lead her to being a ballooning pilot.

“I actually studied politics and when I couldn’t find a job in the political field, I sought professional help,” she explains, “they said ‘perhaps you’d like to pursue marketing’ and the role they had in mind was a marketing assistant for a hot air balloon operator.”

As someone that was always open to the adventure, Semakaleng said yes to the role which led her from balloon office to balloon field and now being a balloon pilot. She strongly believes that the industry chose her.

Flip Steyn, a pilot and managing director at Air to Air Africa, trained Semakaleng and noticed her intelligence and willingness to learn. He explains that ballooning as a sport is dying out and that with young people like Semakaleng, he hopes that it’ll increase the interest in ballooning.

“Being in the air, it’s a lot of freedom and fun. Once you turn the sky into your playground you tend to live a very limitless life. It’s expanded my horizons beyond channels that I didn’t imagine myself,” exclaims Semakaleng. Heights aren’t something to fear with ballooning either, despite it being a common trait among pilots.

“My fear of heights is something that happened quite naturally but when I was in a balloon, I found that it switches off because when you’re in the balloon, you’re floating with the clouds and not against the wind. The sense of falling is not felt when you’re in a balloon and I just felt  a sense of calm and peace in doing what I love.”

As unusual of a career it is, Semakaleng loves that her career doesn’t feel like a job and hopes that more young people will take an interest to become balloon pilots.

“My career is a learning journey. The balloon training school is accepting a lot more students. We are in the hopes of renewing the scholarship for more pilots and in my work with air-to-air balloon safaris, I get to share my journey and passion with ballooning with everyday South Africans and you never know which one of those passengers will be the next balloon pilot as well.” 

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