Women’s Month Feature: Charting Her Own Course

By Vanessa Papas


Beautiful. Nurturing. Compassionate. Ambition. Powerful. Women across the world are rising stronger than ever before. We have today a far cry from simply being ‘a man’s world’. In celebration of National Women’s Day on 9 August, we take a look at some amazing women who, despite their disabilities, have risen beyond imagination and become a force to be reckoned with.


Caroline Van Rooi

 At 45, Caroline Van Rooi has lived through an ordeal that would cause others to drown in despair and give up. Not Caroline. When the fabric of her life was torn apart, she was determined to stitch the pieces together again.

Caroline now owns Red Pilot, a small business that manufactures clothing. Caroline is diabetic, has had both legs amputated and is partially sighted. She describes herself as ‘differently abled’. Her company creates bespoke garments, designed with people’s specific physical requirements in mind. Red Pilot specialises in plus-size fashion but cater for the whole family.

“When I lost my sight I was deep in a pit of illness and depression, afraid that my life was over. I never thought that I would be able to use a computer again, let alone work again. Fortunately, I got this amazing learnership at Cape Town Society for the Blind, studying computer literacy and project management. I now have an NQF level 4 in Project Management, Computing, and Public Speaking, and was Valedictorian of my class.  A six-month contract at Cape Town City Council on the EPWP programme enabled me to save a bit, and I used that income to start my own business, Red Pilot, before my contract ended.”

She named the company as a fusion of her married name, “Rooi” and her maiden name “Pilot”, the present life with her disabilities, and her past life when she could see like a pilot. She uses the red energy of anger and hurt at what happened to her body, to pilot her through the challenges and create a new vision.

Caroline was recently selected to participate in the 2018 Tholoana Programme, a business development programme that offers mentorship and training, seed funding and access to market.

“I lost my right leg in May this year and actually broke out of the hospital to attend the Costing and Pricing workshop last month. That is how determined I am to make a success of Red Pilot. I am proud of who I am and the road I have travelled.  When I consider what I have come through, I’m so happy to be accepted onto the programme, and to have the opportunity to gain business skills. Now I feel alive, vibrant and I’m flourishing, doing what I do best. I want to inspire others who feel that they are worthless and I want to help them dress their best, so that they feel beautiful and powerful,” she said.