In 1998, Asnath Mahapa took to the skies in a very male-dominated field.
Asnath Mahapa didn’t go out to make history in the industry, but she managed to anyway. At thirteen years old, Mahapa found herself enthralled by planes. She said that one day it hit her that someone was in charge of flying that plane. Then she said, “If someone can fly this thing, that means I can also do it.”
She was immediately struck with some opposition. Her father wasn’t so delighted to hear that she wanted to be a pilot. Mahapa said that her father “never entertained the idea”. She attempted to go along with her father’s wishes, but she couldn’t bring herself to follow through. She wanted to fly, and that she did. That, of course, wasn’t her only obstacle. She recalled, “I was the only woman in my class the whole time …I had to work very hard. I had to probably work ten times harder than the men that I was with in the classroom.”
In 1998, Asnath Mahapa took her first flight. Though she felt sick the first few times, she kept going. She became the first black woman to take flight in South Africa, as the pilot. She wouldn’t even know that until 2003. She was still the only black woman flying for South Africa at the time.
She didn’t stop there. Asnath Mahapa hoped to help other girls fly, too. In 2012, Mahapa opened up the African College of Aviation. From there, she helps students learn to fly those big, metal birds. “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 I went through at that time. They still struggle to get jobs after they qualify. Most of them struggle with finances because it’s an expensive industry.”
Mahapa strives to encourage other women to work in the field, no matter what. She does not ever think that there will be enough women in the field — that it will always be male-dominated. Despite this, she makes her message very clear. “If I can change the world, I would tell the girls go out there and do it. I will tell the boys that there is nothing wrong with a girl becoming a pilot or becoming an astronaut for that matter.”
“Boys must accept that girls can become anything they want,” she continued, “and girls must believe in themselves that they can become anything that they want.”