News & Media

Inhlanyelo Hub Drone Divas make flight history, first cohort graduates

The Inhlanyelo Hub Drone Diva Programme celebrated the graduation of its first cohort on 12 March 2024 at Unisa Sunnyside Campus, Tshwane, under the theme "Opening skies for Women in aviation". Launched in September 2023 to empower women in aviation, the programme equipped graduates with skills in drone piloting, drone technology development (coding), drone industry optimisation and even drone manufacturing. These pioneering women are now poised to take flight in their careers.


The Inhlanyelo Hub's Drone Divas Programme participants

In her opening remarks, Prof Zethu Nkosi, Executive Dean: College of Human Sciences and Inhlanyelo Hub NPC Board Member (Non-Profit Company), expressed her delight towards the programme participants. She said: "As we just celebrated International Women's Day, I stand before you filled with immense pride and joy as we celebrate the success of the first cohort of the Inhlanyelo Hub Drone Divas Programme, a beacon of entrepreneurship and innovation within Unisa."

Nkosi emphasised the programme's mission, stating that it aimed to empower women to soar in aviation and become a driving force for greater female participation in STEAM fields (science, technology, engineering, art & mathematics). "This groundbreaking initiative, aligned with the university's catalytic niche area focusing on aviation and aeronautical studies, equips graduates with the skills and licenses to excel in drone-related careers."

Nkosi told the graduates: "The knowledge and skills you have learned will provide many opportunities in the aviation sector. In addition, it has equipped you to deliver valuable services to disaster recovery, farming, nature conservation, security, photography, mine surveying and more."


From left: Prof Raphael Mpofu, Drone Diva Masana Mtileni and Prof Zethu Nkosi

Gender transformation

Prof Raphael Mpofu, Interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Inhlanyelo Hub, emphasised the programme's role in advancing the university's transformation agenda. He stressed the importance of opening doors for young black women in a traditionally male-dominated field. "It's time we create a more equitable space for everyone to contribute to building our nation and economy, regardless of gender," he explained. Mpofu further highlighted the university's dedication towards student support by covering the programme's expenses for the graduates.

Mpofu congratulated the participants and stated that the next phase would encompass advanced training for those wishing to participate in it, and those seeking employment can look into security, aviation and firefighting, among other fields.

Reflecting on the programme, Drone Diva participant and graduate Masa Mtileni said she took a gamble by enrolling at Inhlanyelo Hub to become a drone pilot. She continued: "I was in so much doubt and simultaneously intrigued by all the possibilities this opportunity provided – it sparked a fire in me. I wanted to know more about aviation, and I was determined to obtain my Remote Pilot Certificate (RPC) and become a drone pilot." 

Mtileni states that when the training began, it was fascinating but daunting. She says what helped her was the bond she shared with other divas, assisting each other through countless hours of studying and hard work to complete assigned tasks.

Mtileni recounted moments when she felt lost in a plethora of regulations, training and studies, questioning if this was something she could genuinely master, "But," she said, "I am truly grateful to our wonderful trainers and support from Prof Davis, our class captain Nelly and to our teamwork, this made me realise that getting my RPC is possible."

Opening doors for women in a traditionally male-dominated field

Prof Annemarie Davis, Project Leader of Inhlanyelo Hub, stated that her involvement in the programme derives from her passion for seeing the difference she can make to women and communities. She continued: "We recruited a total of 18 ladies to join the programme, and most are unemployed. Three of our candidates came from protection services within the university. Another three are working in the mines as quantity surveyors. We hope from this to build partnerships with mining companies to potentially offer internships for our divas who qualify with their drone pilot licence training."


Prof Annemarie Davis pinning Yasekwa Dutywa's lapel with a congratulatory flight medal and nametag

"This programme," she added, "offers opportunities for women in an industry known for gender disparities. For many years, women in aviation have been relegated to being air hostesses, but now we see women pilots, including in the drone industry, entering and widening the space for the next generation."

Davis said she looks forward to the next cohort training session. She added: "Watch the space, the sky is opening up for women in aviation. Information about the next applications for the Inhlanyelo Hub Drone Diva Programme intake can be found on the Inhlanyelo website."

Views from the Drone Divas

From left: Khanyisa Shivambu, Nozipho Nale and Basetsana Sesinyi

Khanyisa Shivambu

I am happy to have enrolled and earned my drone pilot licence with Inhlanyelo Hub. It has been such a great experience from the beginning. I currently work for Exxaro as a mine surveyor, and I'll be using the lessons learned to collect data; currently, we are using contractors, but I am hoping to fill that gap for the company. I am looking forward to the advanced lessons. I have also benefited a lot from the teamwork with other participants.

Nozipho Nale

I have gained a lot of knowledge and experience in drone piloting. I am grateful to Unisa and Inhlanyelo Hub for investing so much knowledge. I work in the security sector and have witnessed, through the programme, how this will help us prevent crime and collect crucial evidence for court proceedings.

Basetsana Sesinyi

This programme has taught me invaluable lessons in teamwork and communication. I am a qualified aircraft mechanic, and my knowledge in the aviation industry, through this programme, has been immensely expanded. For example, I learnt about manned and unmanned aircraft in detail, among other aviation facets. My fellow divas allowed me to express my ideas and feelings – we have built a strong relationship, and I will forever cherish this throughout my aviation career.

The Inhlanyelo Hub Drone Diva Programme has successfully launched the careers of its first graduating class. Equipped with a comprehensive skillset encompassing drone piloting, drone technology development, industry optimisation, and even manufacturing, these pioneering women are poised to impact the drone industry significantly.  

* By Godfrey Madibane, Acting Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

**Photography by Shooheima Champion, Multimedia Centre

Publish date: 2024/03/13

Unisa Shop