Flying High

Asnath Mahape is the first black woman pilot in South Africa. At the age of 35 she is flying huge passenger planes to placeslike London. But it has been a struggle to succeed.

Asnath started life in a rural village near Polokwane. Her mother was the first woman principal of a teacher training college. When Asnath was only 13 years old her beloved mother passed away.

A few weeks after this sad event she went to visit her aunt in Johannesburg. One day they went to fetch something from the neighbour. He happened to be a pilot. So the young girl started asking: “What is a pilot?” Her aunt explained it to her and that was the first time that Asnath realised that those little dots flying in the sky actually have a human being in charge of them.

She was fascinated and started collecting pamphlets and articles about flying and aeroplanes.

Determined

By the time Asnath completed school all she wanted to do was to be a pilot.

However, to please her father she did one year at university. But she hated it and used the time to find out about pilot training schools. Finally, her eldest sister paid for her to go to a flight school.

She was a good student and got her commercial pilot’s licence very quickly.

No jobs

Once Asnath had her licence, her troubles began. The airline business is dominated by white men and no one wanted to give this bright young woman a job.

She applied for jobs for a whole year.

Then one day an old man gave her a lift.He asked what she wanted to be and she told him that she was trained as a pilot but could not find a job. He must have recognised her passion and confidence because he contacted Joe Modise, the then Minister of Defence.

The airline business is dominated by white men and no one wanted to give this bright young woman a job

A while later Asnath got a phone call from Mosiua Lekota offering her a place in the South African Airforce.

Starting over

But still things were made difficult for her.

The officials did not believe that her pilot’s licence was valid and made her start her training from scratch. She passed the exam with flying colours.

Later Asnath was approached by South African Airways (SAA). Here too, many obstacles were put in her path and Asnath had to prove herself over and over again.

(In 2013, about 700 of the 800 pilots at South African Airways were white males.Things still have not changed much.)This made her very confused and frustrated.

“When I started on this career I did not know how cruel the world can be. I did not know how manipulative people can be.”

Dream comes true

It took another eight years at SAA before Asnath finally achieved her dream of flying big commercial aeroplanes.

How did she manage to persevere for so long? Asnath believes that it is because her mother taught her three daughters to be strong and ambitious.

I love feeling the power of the aeroplane

But in the end Asnath’s success is due to her passion. “I just love everything about flying. I can feel it in my body. I love feeling the power of the aeroplane, I love the speed, I love looking at the beautiful sky.”

Teaching others

Her dream for the future is to help other young women to have a career in aviation or flying. “If I can play a role in helpingwomen to become something, I will be happy.” To achieve this dream she has started the African College of Aviation (seethe next page). Asnath wants to train at least 30 young women to become pilots over the next 15 years.

Story by Maren Bodenstein
From Rise Young Women’s Club Magazine 5th Edition