Asnath Mahapa was the first black woman to become a pilot in South Africa.
In 2012 Mahapa opened the African College of Aviation, with the commitment to help young girls pursue their dreams. She wants the college to benefit future generations.
“At the end of the day, I want them to be pilots with confidence and knowing right from wrong – because being a professional pilot means being disciplined.”
Mahapa has not had an easy journey though. She faced challenges, from the very first moment she realised she wanted to fly.
“At the age of 13 years, I just became fascinated by the idea of flying. It 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 those things, that means I can too.” Mahapa told CNN Africa Voices.
Her father didn’t want her to become a pilot, and instead she enrolled at the University of Cape Town to study electrical engineering. A year later, she dropped out to start flight school.
Her training wasn’t easy either. She was the only woman in her class the whole time.
“I had to probably work ten times harder than the men that I was with in the classroom,” she says.
Yen.com.gh learned that when she took her first flight in 1998 she didn’t realise what she had achieved.
“I didn’t know I was the first black woman [to be a pilot in South Africa] until 2003. I was still the only one then and I did not know. Before I knew it, I was on TV, the front page of newspapers, and that came as a shock because I was 22 at the time, I was still very young.”
Although she wasn’t expecting it, the mom of two wants to use the media attention as a force to drive change in the industry.
“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 struggle with finances because it’s a very expensive industry.”
The college is a way for her to make a difference in changing people’s perceptions of the flight industry.
“I don’t think there will ever be enough women in the industry. But if I could change the world, I would tell the boys that they must accept that girls can become anything they want and girls must believe in themselves that they can become anything they want… If, one day, I can say, ‘I have actually touched so many lives and made a difference’, I think that’s when I’ll have peace of mind.”