Flying (and Driving) With South Africa’s First Black Woman Balloon Pilot

by | Apr 26, 2022 | Johannesburg, Johannesburg Day Trips, West Rand | 4 comments

Last week I participated in a “motoring” media morning with Ford South Africa. The core purpose of the event was to get a bunch of woman journalists/bloggers/influencers together for a drive through the countryside in a convoy of bad-ass Ford Ranger bakkies (pick-up trucks). But we also went up in a hot-air balloon with Semakaleng (Sema) Mathebula, South Africa’s first Black woman balloon pilot, at Bill Harrop’s in Magaliesburg.

Sema Mathebula, South Africa's first black woman balloon pilot
Sema at Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris.
Ford Raptor in Magaliesburg
Johannesburg In Your Pocket reporter Huguette Ndayizigiye poses with our steed for the morning: An electric-blue Ford Ranger Raptor. I’ll say more about our driving experience at the end of the post.

I am extremely fortunate and have been hot-air ballooning at Bill Harrop’s three times (see my previous posts here and here). But I must emphasize, again, that hot-air ballooning is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I can’t recommend Bill Harrop’s highly enough. An hour of floating silently above the ancient Magaliesburg mountain range in that colorful balloon is 100% worth the price (R2500 to R3000, or $150 to $200, depending on the package) and worth waking up in the middle of the night (3:15 a.m., in my case) to make it to Magaliesburg by sunrise. This ballooning experience was particularly worthwhile for me because I did it with a fabulous group of women and Sema.

Vertical balloon shot
One of many favorite balloon shots from the morning.

About Sema the Balloon Pilot

Sema, who is 27 years old, has a really interesting story. She grew up in Ga-Rankuwa, a settlement about 40 kilometers north of Pretoria, and graduated from Wits University with degrees in International Relations and Politics. Sema didn’t originally plan to become a balloon pilot and she’s actually afraid of heights! But a few years ago she joined the Bill Harrop’s office as a marketing assistant, and did so well that the team encouraged her to apply for a grant from the Balloon and Airship Federation of South Africa (BAFSA) and the S.A. Department of Sport and Recreation. In November 2021, Sema passed her solo flight test and officially became South Africa’s first Black woman balloon pilot.

In addition to being a balloon pilot, Sema also has a day job as a government affairs analyst at Ford. This means she sometimes gets up at 3 a.m. to fly a balloon and then GOES INTO THE OFFICE afterward.

I realize I’m fan-girling hard on Sema. But she is such a charming, fun, inspiring person. Hanging out with her for the day gave me hope for South Africa’s future.

Sema Mathebula
Sema is also insanely photogenic. Follow her on Instagram at @SematheBalloonist.

Up in My Air Balloon

Please humor me for a moment while I bombard you with pretty balloon pictures.

Balloon inflating
Our inflating balloon bathed in the golden light of sunrise.
Pre-ballooning excitement.
Looking up inside our hot-air balloon
Looking up, just before take-off.
Balloon shadow
Balloons taking off
Balloon panorama
My favorite shots of the day. I know there are lots of beautiful places in the world to go hot-air ballooning, but I really think this has to be one of the best.
Another angle.
Staring out from the balloon
Everyone was in awe.
Airplane flying past the balloon
This cheeky airplane pilot was having a good time flying circles around us.

Living the RangeHER Life

After returning to earth and indulging in a massive Bill Harrop’s breakfast, our group took off in the convoy of bakkies for some 4×4 training. I managed to be behind the wheel of our Ranger (or “RangeHer”, as #LivetheRangeHERlife was the official theme of the day) for the hardest climb of the drive, up a very steep, rocky hill that required steady pressure on the gas pedal with all four wheels engaged.

Our car went first, and I must confess I felt like a rockstar after making it up that hill. You can watch a short clip of my 4×4 triumph in the reel I just posted on Instagram.

We then enjoyed some dainty tea and cake under the shade of an acacia tree, had a proper girl-talk session, and drove our bakkies back to Joburg. I proceeded home and went to sleep for the rest of the afternoon.

Thanks to Ford, Bill Harrop’s, and this bad-ass group of RangerHER ladies for a great day. Also, shout-out to Bill Harrop himself, who sadly passed away due to covid-19 last year. I’m sure he’s up in the sky ballooning somewhere, cheering on Sema and the rest of his team.

Ballooning vista

This media experience was courtesy of Ford South Africa and Bill Harrop’s. Opinions expressed are mine.


  1. Margaret Urban

    Your post really does make one optimistic about South Africa – at least for a while. Take that scenic beauty, generosity, GirlPower inspiration and multiply it!

    • 2summers

      Thanks Margaret 🙂

  2. AutumnAshbough

    Those are amazing photos, but it’s your video on Instagram that I love best. Even the cheeky pilot!

    • 2summers

      Thanks! I’m also proud of it.


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