By Kylie Kiunguyu
Mandisa Mfeka joined the South African Air Force in 2008 and earned her wings a year after starting flying school in 2010. Now she is South Africa’s first black female combat pilot.
Mandisa Mfeka has been fascinated by aeroplanes from the age of five. Her mother and grandmother used to take her to see air shows at Virginia Airport near the east-coast city of Durban.
“We would park at the side of the airport and watch the planes take off. It was all very exciting,” she said in a press release by the South African Air Force (SAAF).
Then her uncle brought home a book on careers in maths and science and her fascination grew.
“As I turned a page, I saw a recruitment article by the South African Air Force (SAAF). My grades were really good at school and I met the entry requirements. I was thrilled.”
“From the moment I discovered the SAAF, I knew that’s what I wanted to do and I haven’t looked back.”
In 2008, she joined the SAAF and was enrolled at Central Flying School in Langebaan, Western Cape in 2010. Mfeka went on to get her wings in 2011.
Combat fighters protect friendly units from enemy air, ground and naval forces. They strike against enemy forces and targets and defend airspace against enemy planes.
Speaking about her journey to becoming a combat pilot, Major Mfeka said, “It has been an amazing experience. This is such a dynamic environment and so mentally stimulating. I love it because I’m growing in my technical expertise and learning more about aerodynamics.”
Mandisa lives by the motto that “the sky is the baseline”. To her this essentially means that the excellence bar that you pushed yesterday should be your starting point tomorrow.
Major Mfeka joins the ranks of another female pioneer, Second Lieutenant Thokozile Muwamba, who also made history in 2017 by becoming Zambia’s first female fighter pilot. At the time Muwamba told the local newspaper Times of Zambia, “Men are not the competition but counterparts that one should work with. Women should begin to participate and realise their abilities. Because of this understanding, I am ready to undertake the task ahead of me.
“I look at the fact that when I am in the aeroplane, the aircraft knows no sex. Everything depends on my input, no matter my gender.”