We spoke to a young man from East London. Like many of our role models, he grew up in poverty. Siyakholwa Zazini has been through a lot in life, however, his determination to break the cycle of poverty and the pattern of no education kept him focused on his dream to be a pilot. At 21 years, he is a private pilot, and is not done yet.
Please tell us who Siyakholwa Zazini is.
I am a young black pilot who grew up in a shack that was later upgraded into an RDP house. Life has given me many reasons to give up or walk away, but each time, I chose not to. If you look at me, you would not believe where I come from. I have chosen to work hard, and to do away with excuses.
What was your upbringing like?
The majority of my upbringing revolves around my grandmother. She raised me to believe in Christ from as early as I can remember. She is the one that name me Siyakhulwa, which means “we believe”. I remember from an early age, she used to take me to church every Sunday. My Mother and Father were never married. They were both victims of alcohol. Due to the damage I saw alcohol and smoking cause to my parents, and subsequently myself, I made a decision to never drink nor smoke. This is where my faith came in. It gave me the strength to stick to my decision.
One of the challenges I faced was that I failed grade 12. However that did not bring me down for too long. I gathered my strength, and went back to school. I studied again and passed with a bachelor’s degree. Another challenge was the lack of information pertaining to aviation. All I knew was that aviation was not offered at university. One day, I decided to go to the airport and ask all the relevant questions. This is where I met Sipho Mangesi. The last challenge was funding. Coming from a poor family, I knew they would not be able to pay for my tuition. With Sipho’s help, I was able to secure a bursary from the office of the Premier in the Eastern Cape. I was their first bursary holder and I believe I have made them proud. So proud that they’ve decided to keep the bursary offer going for other students after me as well.
What was it like to fail grade 12?
I had a tough childhood and upbringing, but failing grade 12 has to be one of my toughest experiences. It hurt, very much. Upon a lot of thinking back to the previous year, I realised that I only started putting in the work toward the end of the year. I was not consistent. Not to make excuses, but I also allowed a lot of stuff happening around me distract me. I then lied to my family, out of fear, and told them I had passed, but not as well as I had hoped. However, I eventually told them the truth. My Uncle was supportive, and encouraged me to go back to school. When I got to school, I walked in to my amazingly supportive teachers. They knew my potential, and thanks to them, I am here today.
Have you always had an interest in aviation?
I went to a Primary School which was not far from the airport. So growing up next to the airport is one of the main reasons why I had an interest in planes. I was always fascinated as I would watch them take off and as I would watch them land. I was always wondering how they manage to hold a number of people in it, and yet still stay in the sky.
What is your earliest memory of this interest?
When I look back, I realise that I always enjoyed games that had to do with flying. Toys like home-made kites were my favourite. I can therefore say I have always loved aviation, to the extent that I never had a second choice career.
When you told your parents what you aspired to be, what was their reaction?
My parents did not know what I wanted to study. They were happy when I passed grade twelve. To them, being a matriculant, I was a success story. It was my grandmother who always wanted more for me. She supported and believed in me throughout. As such, she is the one person who knew and still knows about my every move.
Aviation has taught me to deal with my problems, that running away, is never the solution. I have also learnt to be responsible, but most importantly, to have a plan b, c, d and even e.
At which point did were you able to say “My dream is becoming a reality”
It was when I finally obtained my first bursary, which led to my second. I had been applying to many different organizations, and got declined. Finally, the office of the Premier in the Eastern Cape accepted my application. Soon after, the department of transport in the Eastern Cape came on board as well. It was at this point where I thought “it is actually happening”. I still have a long way to go with my dream, but I am happy with where I am.
Who and what inspires you?
My inspiration is Sipho Mangesi and Manfred Lyambo, who are both pilots. Sipho Mangesi is the guy who got me started in my dream. He is the one who helped me get the relevant information. Manfred gave me my first flight, for free. That first flight was like a revelation to me. It was in that moment where I told myself it was only a matter of time. The third person who inspires me is my grandmother; she has been there since day one. Most importantly, what inspires me is my eagerness to break the cycle of poverty in my family. What inspires me, is my determination to end the cycle of poverty in my family.