Major Mandisa Mfeka is the first South African female pilot in the South African army and she only became popularly known to South Africans when her name was mentioned at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s inauguration this year.
This young inspiring rock was born in Ntuzuma, north of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal. With both her parents being teachers, she grew up in a family that is academically orientated and a spirit of love and academics was passed down to her and her siblings. Mandisa, who fell in love with flying at age of five, said “My mother and my grandmother used to take us to Virginia Airport to enjoy the air show however we would only sit outside and my mother would park her car there because we couldn’t afford entrance tickets.” In that way she never met or came across any pilot.
Her parents separated when she was only seven years old and from that age Mandisa learnt there is nothing like gender bias because her mother played both roles of father and mother in her life. The same applied with her father, “My father would clean, cook and wash our clothes and that basically taught us self discipline and not to feel that because you are a girl or my brother being a boy therefore we have limitations on ourselves based on gender.”
She only discovered that she can become a pilot when she was 16 years old, and this was when she started making her research in careers about maths and science. She came across an advertisement by the South African Air Force looking for pilots and decided to give it a try.
“I decided to apply and send reports to the South African Air Force telling them about myself and that I would like to be part of the air force. They eventually responded with application documents that I had to fill and I did exactly that and attached my CV to them. I got a response and Major Sergeant Jojwana communicated with me and she was the one who told me that basic Military training would be tough but that was preparation to meet the physical criteria of becoming a pilot.”
Mandisa adds that when she matriculated she went straight to the air force and started with her basic military training in 2008, the following year she did a year in the military academy which was basically ground school. In 2011 she got her wings and chose to be a combat pilot because she wanted to grow and become an aviation specialist. Mandisa is currently at Air force Makhado where she flies the Hawk Mark 120.
Her job comes with a lot of advantages, like being tasked to fly in events like Freedom Day Celebrations, Presidential Inaugurations and State Funerals; however it also comes with its disadvantages like being moved to different places in a short period of time. Despite this, she continues in the path she chose to be in the air force.
The young female combat pilot says that she would love to get more women to join the air force too.