37-year-old Asnath Mahapha made history in South Africa when she became the first, black, female to become a commercial pilot. She tells us how she broke career and social norms.
Tell us briefly about your childhood, what inspired you to love aviation?
I was born in October 1979. I grew up in the Northern part of South Africa, a province called Limpopo. I did all my schooling in Limpopo until I finished matric there. I fell in love with the idea flying from the age of 13. Curiosity about why aircraft manages to stay in the air is what inspired me to consider this career.
How did your parents react to your dreams of becoming a pilot?
My father did not approve but he eventually saw that my life would not be fulfilled if I did not become a pilot and started supporting me.
How did you remain focused on your dreams especially with the challenges you faced?
I was driven by the end results. I did not focus my energy on the obstacles, I just believed that if another human being, regardless of gender, can do it so can I.
You made history by being the first black female commercial pilot when you were 20, how was that experience?
I was too young to understand the amount of responsibility that title came with. I was just happy and thought I was lucky and that humbles me.
What were some of the highlights and challenges that you had faced in your career in aviation?
When I finally got into SAA, that was my biggest highlight. Being the first black female, I had to open doors for others and that means I had to go through difficult periods of unemployment and not being recognised as a qualified pilot.
What does it really take for someone to be a pilot?
First, it is passion, then hard work. One must also be able to stay calm in stressful situations. We write exams every 6 months and do practical tests every six months, which requires discipline.
Who played a crucial role in your career growth?
An old man called Mr Ike Maphoto, he believed in me when no one else did, I am very thankful for that.
You were named one of 100 great women in aviation in the world, how did that recognition come about and how did that feel?
Again this is one of those moments where I am humbled, to be honest, I do not even know how this came about, I received a phone call from one of the writers telling me that after doing their research they felt that I belonged in that top 100.
What is your biggest achievement to date as a pilot?
I fly the National Flag, I am very proud of that.
How do you balance your hectic career with your family?
When I am not flying I am home, I do not have to be at the office. Those days when I am off are very special, I try to spend time with my children, I cook for them, we do homework together and if it is weekends we go out and have fun together.
Why did you start African College of Aviation in 2012?
I qualified as a pilot in 1999, and when I looked back around 2009 I found that African women were still going through the same hardships I went through after I qualified as a pilot. I wanted to provide support for such women, to give them courage so they did not lose hope.
How do you select students to train in your college and how do you help them become employable in the aviation industry? Students with Maths and Physics are welcome. We also try to work with the government to get those who cannot afford funding. We look at those people who are coming from disadvantaged backgrounds with good Matric results in Maths and science. They still go through tests to make sure we are getting the right fit. It is not easy to find a job with low experience; one way of getting experience is by doing Instructor’s rating and start teaching others to fly.
What are the challenges that you face in your industry and how would you help alleviate them if you had the platform to?
Things are changing and women are slowly being accepted. The only challenge is the requirements for one to fly for big airlines; our leaders need to come up with a way to help young pilots to gain experience so they can be employable.
What is the best career advice that was given to you that you still apply today?
Never stop learning
What plans do you have for 2017 and what are your long-term goals?
I have established a foundation and I intend to raise funds to help those who cannot afford to pay their way into any aviation career. Also to do proper aviation awareness.
What is your advice to young people who want to pursue a career in aviation?
Anything is possible, just believe in yourself and be prepared to work hard. Always remember easy come easy go.
For more information, contact African College of Aviation:
Tel: (011) 824-0536