At 32 years of age, LieutenantColonel Phetogo Molawa has already broken through gender
and age barriers in a career realm perceived to be masculine.
Lt Col Molawa is the first black person in South Africa to command a South African Air Force (SAAF) installation.
She considers this one of her career highlights, with the fi rst highlight qualifying as the fi rst female helicopter pilot in the SAAF at the tender age of 21.
Today she manages over 100 people at the Port Elizabeth Air Force Station, situated a stone’s throw away from the airport with which it shares a runway.
Lt Col Molawa has a quiet strength about her. She describes herself as someone who does not rest in comfort zones and thrives on challenges.
“My promotion to commander of this air force base came at a perfect time because I was starting to feel that I’d learnt all that I could as a helicopter pilot. I was ready for the next challenge,” she said.
Her role requires a wide range of skills, from managing logistics to engaging stakeholders such the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) and dealing with VIP and VVIP transfers.
“I do not fl y as much now as I am mostly in the office.
I deal with logistics and the technical aspect of the job and I am involved with human resources.
My role requires interaction with stakeholders, what our service-level agreements entail and what we offer.
I have to know how our stakeholders operate in order to know what we can offer them.
It’s a very steep learning curve for me,” she said. Some of her interactions are with the navy and the army, she explained.
“Most of the operations are SAAF operations, in terms of what we are mandated to do.
We work with the NSRI for emergency situations and we liaise with the army and the navy.”
Barrier-breaking achievements Although Lt Col Molawa’s career has been characterised by a series of barrier-breaking achievements, she said rising up the ladder is within anyone’s reach, regardless of gender or race.
“Apparently I am the fi rst black female to command an air force base. In the air force, from the beginning, we are not treated differently.
Women are not expected to do half of the training. We all do the same army training, the same pilot training; we don’t get special treatment,” pointed out Lt Col Molawa.
She highlighted the simple truth that gender stereotypes and limitations have no place in the air force or the army.
“Discrimination on the basis of gender is not allowed.
The law protects me because when you fi nish [a certain level of training], you’re a colonel not a woman.
If you are insubordinate to me, you are not insubordinate to a woman but to a colonel,” she said.
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