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Asnath Mahapa spent her childhood daydreaming about the large objects flying miles above her head. But she never dreamed she would break barriers by becoming the first Black female from South Africa to soar amongst the skies.

With a deep-seated spirit of determination, Mahapa fought her way into the pilot’s seat, and is now spending her life training other women who dream of the same path.

But like any story of triumph, comes tribulation. Mahapa discovered her father wasn’t 100 percent behind the idea; in fact, he didn’t support her vision at all.

“When I told my father I wanted to become a pilot, he never even entertained the idea,” she said in an interview with CNN.

She acquiesced to her father’s wishes and enrolled at the University of Cape Town as an electrical engineering student, but only lasted one year before dropping out. Her heart still pulled her towards flying.

Mahapa enrolled in flight school, but found the experience more challenging than she imagined.

“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 said her first few times behind the wheel made her sick, but she knew the only way to overcome it was to take her fear head on: “I was persistent, I went back again, I went back until I stopped feeling sick.”

In 1998, she became the first South African woman to take to the sky at only 22 years old. “I didn’t know I was the first black woman until 2003, until about four years later,” Mahapa said. “I was still the only one at the time and I did not know.”

As her passion and notoriety grew, Mahapa decided to put it to use, opening a flight school in 2012 called the African College of Aviation.

Mahapa said the industry is still very male-dominated and she notices that her Black female students struggle with the same issues she did, including financial constraints.

“For me, it’s about trying to help women who aspire to become pilots,” Mahapa said. “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.”

Mahapa said she is resolved to educate women and hopes men understand there are no limitations to what they can do:

“Boys must accept that girls can become anything they want and girls must believe in themselves that they can become anything that they want.”



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