The Liberty Gazette
February 2, 2016Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: As a child, Sibongile Sambo gazed longingly skyward at planes that trekked aloft, imagining what it would be like to fly. Over her house they soared, and captured little Sibongile’s heart and mind. But careers for black women in South Africa didn’t typically include aviation, much less being the owner of a company, so she began to carve out a successful career in human resources.
Because she is bright and is gifted with ingenuity, Sibongile began building her reputation in the HR industry, but that all changed in 2003 when the South African government passed legislation designed to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds to step into the world of entrepreneurship. That’s when she saw an opportunity to jump into the world of airplanes, where she had always felt she belonged.
Lacking both collateral and experience didn’t deter this determined woman; there’s one thing this pioneer knew she had that had great value: her passion for airplanes.
In 2004 when she founded her company, SRS Aviation, in Johannesburg, Sibongile Sambo became the first black woman to own, 100%, an aviation start-up. They call her a Lioness of Africa. Helicopter tours and VIP chartered trips were among the first services offered. Her company now also offers aircraft maintenance, sales, and fleet management, and flies parts and components to others in the industry.
Learning aviation language offered her an exciting challenge. Profit margins have, too. But she’s up for the challenges and took that first step armed with nothing more than her passion.
She also credits the investment others made in her life for helping her be where she is today, and has already begun to give back by providing for three of her employees to obtain their private pilot licenses. She’s a trailblazer, leading the way for other black South African women to start aviation businesses, earning respect and admiration of people from all over the world.
Last year the Women in Aviation International conference was held in Dallas, and many women came from South Africa to learn and network. On the first day of the conference we woke to a significant snow fall, and all the African women, dressed in traditional colorful clothes, enjoyed snapping photos of the snow. One small group even came up to me and asked if they could have their picture taken with a white woman. These gals have more support than their mothers ever did, and they’re taking hold of the opportunities and making something for themselves. I have a suspicion that Sibongile had something to do with the group of women who came to Dallas last year. In spite of her busy schedule, somehow she finds the time to mentor others and devote time to motivational speaking engagements.
Her story inspires people of all ages and backgrounds, but she’s not one to rest on her laurels. She has plans to expand her business across Africa, where she sees growth in aviation, and has determined that not even the sky can limit her.