“When I told my father I wanted to become a pilot, he never even entertained the idea,” she told CNN.
As a teenager, she was fascinated by planes, and made up her mind then to fly a plane.
“It just dawned on me that those big things that we see in the skies, someone is actually in charge of them. I thought if someone can fly this thing, that means I can also do it,” she said.
Mahapa started flight school after dropping out of the University of Cape Town, one year after she enrolled for a course in electrical engineering.
But flight school came with its own challenges.
“I was the only woman in my class the whole time,” she said. “I had to work very hard. I had to probably work ten times harder than the men that I was with in the classroom,” she added.
“My first time, I felt sick. I was persistent, I went back again, I went back until I stopped feeling sick,” she said.
She took to the skies in 1998 as the first black female pilot in South Africa.
“I didn’t know I was the first black woman until 2003, until about four years later. And I was still the only one at the time and I did not know. Before I knew it I was on TV, front page of newspapers, and that came as a shock because I was still young, I was 22 at the time, I was very young,” she said.
In a bid to set the stage for others to follow, Mahapa opened the African College of Aviation in 2012.
“For me, it’s about trying to help women who aspire to become pilots. I still see a lot of black women going through the same things that I went through at that time. They still struggle to get jobs after they qualify. Most of them they struggle with finances because it’s a very expensive industry.
I don’t think there will ever be enough women in the industry. If I can change the world I would tell the girls go out there, do it and I will tell the boys there is nothing wrong with a girl becoming a pilot, becoming an astronaut for that matter.
Boys must accept that girls can become anything they want and girls must believe in themselves that they can become anything that they want,” she said.
Despite the challenges Mahapa has no regrets about her decision to pursue a career in aviation.
“Ask any pilot, they’ll tell you, our view from our office is the best in the world, so why would you get bored doing a job like that?”
Photo Credit: CNN