By Bruce Ndlovu
Airforce of Zimbabwe Officer Cadet Silungile Sweswe, who passed away when a SF 260 Genet trainer aircraft crashed on Tuesday afternoon last week, received an emotional farewell as family, friends and colleagues came together to mourn an aspiring pilot whose life was taken as she was on the cusp of fulfilling the abundant promise she showed.
Silungile (23), a resident of Pumula South in Bulawayo, was buried at Umvutshwa Private Cemetery on Friday. Silungile died on the spot alongside flying instructor and Squadron Leader Mkhululi Dube after their plane, which was making a U-turn, according to witnesses, crashed just outside Gweru in Somabhula. The two were on routine training from Josiah Tungamirai Airbase.
Speaking to the Sunday News after the burial, Silungile’s uncle Mr Kholisani Sweswe described her as a prayerful child who was intelligent and self driven.
“She was just someone that was naturally intelligent and academically no one would ever fault. She went to Dumezweni Primary School here in Pumula South and then proceeded to Pumula High School, which is where she was until she finished her A Level. From there she went on to work for World Vision for a while before joining the Air Force.
One thing that I can say about her is that she was someone dedicated to our whole family. It did not matter if you were an uncle, an aunt or any other relative, she respected and cared for you equally,” he said.
Mr Sweswe described the tragic circumstances in which the family had received news of Silungile’s passing on, saying they first became aware of her death after pictures of the mangled SF 260 Genet trainer aircraft started making the rounds on social media.
“We did not know because we were yet to get an official report and that came on Wednesday morning. But social media had already delivered the news to us because we had already started seeing pictures of the plane. From there onwards we were really treated very well by the Air Force and they helped the family throughout the whole grieving process. We never saw the plane that took her life because it had been moved by the time we got there,” he said.
Mr Sweswe said the death of Silungile was a bitter pill to swallow for the family, as she was someone they had pinned their hopes on for the future given her intelligence.
“She was supposed to go for her Pass-out and graduation parade this November but that had been pushed to April because this has been a difficult year. She had asked the family to slaughter a bull specifically for that day. It is really hard to take because when you raise a child and educate her, you’re hoping that she will help elevate the family. Unfortunately, no one can ever know when the Lord will take what is his,” he said.
Mr Sweswe said Silungile had always harboured thoughts of taking her whole family into the sky.
“She always said that she would one day make sure that all of us in the family had a ride on an airplane. That was what she kept saying. From the time when she was young, she looked up to her grandfather who is also a pilot,” he said.
Another uncle, Mr Mengezi Sweswe Mpofu, told the Sunday News that Silungile was an ardent Seventh Day Adventist who was a shining example to other girls in the community.
“She was the president of the Junior Cadets and she was about to achieve her ambition of becoming a pilot. She was a Seventh Day Adventist through and through and over the years she had been to all church groups. We saw her grow from being a young pathfinder into a young woman that continued to live by the word of God,” he said.
One of Silungile’s peers from Pumula South, Ms Melissa Dube, said the late trainee pilot had been a consistent source of inspiration for young women in their community.
“She was someone that was so driven and dedicated and it is so painful to see that she has been taken away when she still had a lot more to offer. For young women in this community she was a beacon of hope,” she said.
At her funeral, many young women from both the Airforce and the community in Pumula South wore t-shirts emblazoned with her face, with the hashtag #FlyGirl accompanying the image. The third born in a family of six girls, Silungile always believed she should break new ground for women in aviation.
“…You just had to go in such a horrifying manner…I don’t know whether to say it’s awesome or it’s sad that you died doing what you loved the most but it’s super sad that you’re gone…This is not how you were supposed to make news, you always wanted to break bounds in Aviation and be the first female something great…” a friend, Tshepiso Ndebele, wrote on Facebook in a farewell. The Sunday News