JONATHAN JANSEN: The struggles and triumphs of the pilot with the hijab
'There’s nothing more exhilarating as when I advance the thrust levers for the takeoff and I hear the sound of the engines spooling up'
Her Belhar high school was a typically dysfunctional Cape Flats institution with disruptive children, inattentive teachers and only two unbroken windowpanes in her classroom. Unsurprisingly, her academic results suffered so, as Jakoet does, she repeated her matric subjects with high hopes of still getting admission to medical school.
But her toughest struggle for admission was to the cockpit. Over and over again Fatima Jakoet, like so many female professionals breaking into once all-male occupations, would have her “Ashwin moment”. She was black. She was a woman. She was Muslim. She wore a hijab. Why, I asked, did she not give up on this long and difficult road to the cockpit? “Flying is a passion; it’s in my bIood; and I wanted to fly the national flag,” was her simple answer.
We were cruising at 37,000 feet above the earth when a woman wearing a hijab came out of the cockpit. The man next to me shuddered and spilled his coffee. That 6am flight out of Cape Town to Johannesburg takes most passengers in and out of dozing so you could see things if you’re not woke. I knew this could only be one person, the famous senior first officer from the little dried fruit town of Wellington who flies A-320s across the Atlantic. It was indeed Fatima Jakoet, the devout Muslim woman known equally for the scarf on her head as for her skills in the cockpit.I was already seated in one of those buzzing college town restaurants in downtown Stellenbosch when a soft voice handed me a freshly baked banana loaf — “This is for you and the family.” Somehow I could not square this gentle, petite and generous woman with a pilot lifting 70 tons of metal off the ground to cruise at 2.5 rugby fields per second. Jakoet sat down and over the next 90 minutes I was to discover one of the mos...