Realising dreams, one step at a time: The story of Itumeleng Mokoena
She speaks code.
Not that code.
Her name is Itumeleng Mokoena, another drone professional who got into the industry by accident. Ms Mokoena was on her way to becoming a pilot. But that dream died the same way most dreams die for so many young hopefuls of an African background.
She couldn’t afford it.
But in her chat on the latest episode of Women and Drones’ Trailblazing Women, Mokoena was not looking back in anger at the lost opportunity of a dream deferred, maybe because she got to do the next best thing.
She got her hands on a drone’s remote control.
We have the excerpts of her story here; but for the rest you can click on the interview and listen for yourself.
Could you introduce yourself, please?
My name is Itumeleng Mokoena, born and bred in South Africa. I’m currently working as the operations manager for company called Parthenius Air. It’s one of the few black-owned drone companies in South Africa that are actually licensed and operating commercially air. I have been in South Africa, having grown up in various areas of southern Africa and am currently based in the province at the moment
We will tell you what attracted you to the industry?
Aah… I wasn’t. The industry found me. I was in high school in 2012, and my intention was to acquire a manned aviation licence. But becoming a pilot involves some exorbitant fees. So I went to university where, during my studies, I signed for a course called non-destructive testing, which is basically about an inspection. After graduating, I went on to work as an intern for a company that was doing inspections for Eskom so we would basically do things like condenser pipe testing.
But my passion was always aviation. So when the drones came along; there was an organisation known as Southern African Women in Aviation (now called Girl Flight Programme in Africa), which I used to volunteer for. Throughout my university years, I would attend camps and training expos with them, and that’s was how I got more exposed to the aviation industry.
After university, I was fortunate to get a bursary to pursue a drone pilot’s licence course in 2017. That’s how I started, and I never looked back ever since.
Anybody in particular who inspires you in the industry?
There is one woman by the name of Beverlyn Grissom. She is actually from the United States of America and I think she runs a drone school over that side. When I was getting to know the industry, one of my challenges was I wasn’t aware of other women. Even throughout my history as an instructor, I think I probably taught less than five girls; a predominant number of students were male. So I started to seek other woman in the industry, and when I came across Ms Grissom, she opened up with me and guided me when I told her of my plans.
When I moved away drone instruction into the more operational side of the drone world, I came to meet even more work in the industry, such as Cynthia Buthelezi at the (South African) Civil Aviation Authority, who was also an instructor and a manned aviation pilot. I realised that there are other woman in this field and all of them were very open with their knowledge; and that is what inspires me to pass on what I know to the coming generations.
Where else do you see opportunities for women in this industry?
I think the biggest opportunity as well is in the manufacturing. I know and I know a few guys who are already doing things in terms of manufacturing their own drones, but am yet to see any women in that sector. So I think that is something that is still yet to be developed.
Also, since we all know that in terms of drones, software is what makes the whole package come together, I’d like to see more female developers coming up with software for drone applications. I think there are quite a number of areas that are still yet to be explored; because drone technology is new industry and the playing field is open.