From the age of 13, Asnath Mahapa, a dreamer from Limpopo, imagined herself flying across the sky. She felt she belonged up there.

Her school holidays were spent with her aunt in Midrand, Gauteng, where she was captivated by the planes flying to and from OR Tambo International Airport. Her father, however, insisted that she study engineering at the University of Cape Town. She did but dropped out after one year to pursue her dream. It was daunting.

She completed the long hours of practical examinations and theoretical studies, moving from Polokwane to Port Elizabeth, only to be rejected by more than 15 companies. Some claimed she was too short to be a pilot.

But Mahapa’s mantra, “I can do this”, kept her going, and she became the first black female pilot in South Africa. Her mother, who was dedicated to helping young people get an education, was her biggest influence and today Mahapa is paying it forward.

At her African College of Aviation in Germiston she gives young students a chance to spread their wings.“It’s not about recognition for me,” she says. “It is the look in those young students’ faces when they get to meet me. They look up to me and I am always humbled by that.”

“Believe in yourself and keep your head down and work towards your goal.”