Ndawonde lets his dream fly

Penwell Dlamini

Penwell Dlamini

David Ndawonde only made it to Grade 6, but he is fascinated by aeroplanes and designs, assembles and flies models.

His one-roomed shack in Diepsloot informal settlement, north of Johannesburg, has become a workshop in which he produces his model airplanes. An unfinished model, the smallest of the three he has built, hangs on the wall.

Despite his interest in a field dominated by the privileged, life has been tough for Ndawonde.

The unemployed father of two left school back home in Hluhluwe, northern KwaZulu-Natal, at the age of 17 when his father died in 1993. But even before then, family problems and poverty had led to schooling being interrupted.

He had witnessed his mother being killed by a family member when he was just 11.

After his father's death, Ndimande took a job washing taxis in Msinga. He came to Johannesburg in 1997 in search of a better life. Once in the City of Gold, he took a job in the only trade he knew, washing taxis at the Randburg taxi rank.

But that didn't last long and he retreated to his shack.

"I saw real aeroplanes taking off and landing at Lanseria Airport and thought, I can make that thing," said Ndawonde.

His first attempt was an aeroplane he made of wood in 2002, but it was too heavy to fly. He then used lighter material and saved his meagre earnings from piece jobs to buy an engine and a radio to control his creation.

"My plane flew, but I did not know how to control it in the air," he said. Ndawonde then learnt to fly aircraft using a flight simulator programme on a computer.