Major Mandisa Mfeka believes that women working in male-dominated spaces have to accept that their ability to do their work has nothing to do with their gender but simply their competence.
Mfeka became an overnight star when she flew one of the five SA Airforce Hawk Mk 120 aircraft over Loftus Versveld Stadium in Pretoria during the inauguration of President Cyril Ramaphosa in May.
As the country celebrates Women’s Month, Mfeka said society had placed pressure on women and that had an impact on how they see themselves and the roles they play.
“The social pressures of a woman to be good, beautiful and desirable . put a lot of pressure on the female body. What I’d like to encourage women to do is to be powerful … and that they don’t need to subscribe to roles that don’t resonate with them. They can do things that in the past were perceived to be [the domain of] males,” she said.
Mfeka, 29, is SA’s first black female combat pilot in the SA National Defence Force and has learned the traits of working in male-dominated environment.
“Understand that your aptitude and your skills are not dimmed down or nullified by being a woman. Tap into your power, tap into your strength and from there you will be able to do the job as you are required.
“When you are in an aeroplane, it does not know whether a woman or a man is sitting in the cockpit. It simply does what it is told to do,” Mfeka said.
Since the historic moment at Loftus, she has had to do a lot of media engagements as radio stations, TV channels, magazines and newspapers wanted a piece of her. But she said the attention should also go to her seniors and colleagues who worked hard to ensure that the fly-past became a success.
“If anything, the [lime]light should go to them. They are the ones who put it together and I was just a participant.
“I really have to give credit to Major Riaan Venter, who I flew with. While the attention is coming to me, I’d really like people to recognise that there were also other people who were playing an important role during the inauguration and I’d like to give gratitude to them,” Mfeka said.
Despite meeting celebrities in her work, the Durban-born Mfeka has retained her inner circle of friends. Her family and friends, she said, have been supportive even in her newly found celebrity status. She now desires to use her status to inspire young girls to pursue their dreams.
She has also set her sights on reaching the highest echelons of the aviation industry and becoming an expert, testing pilots and mastering even the engineering aspects in the field.
She explained what women need to do when working in male-dominated spaces. “I had to learn to become more assertive. I had to understand within myself what boundaries I was upholding so that I could communicate with them (men).”