Sky is no limit

Victor Maphosa Herald Correspondent
She is daring and courageous and with an insatiable pedigree to take on challenging limericks, like male dominance. Ode, Flight Lieutenant Annita Mapiye! She is the first female combat helicopter pilot at the Air Force of Zimbabwe. If you know war in general and air combat in particular, you certainly understand that is no mean exploit.

Inspired by Captain Chipo Matimba, the first female to become a combat pilot in 1996, Mapiye followed her footsteps.

Despite many young women joining the AFZ as pilots, none had plunged into the deep waters of piloting a fighter helicopter, until recently.

Based at Manyame Air Base on the outskirts of Harare, she joined the force in 2012 at the age of 21. And, that was after her father insisted she must abandon her dream of being a medical practitioner.

Mapiye was to later discover a strong force concealed in her innermost, which drove her beyond the clouds, and defying all odds in a field widely perceived to be male dominated. And now at 28, she is the first female helicopter combatant pilot.

“My family is dominated by medical practitioners and I was one of the children who if even asked ’what would you like to be when you grow up’ would not hesitate to say ‘medical doctor’, and that dream made me to seriously work on sciences on my Advanced Level education.

“However, I believe in God, and I am convinced beyond doubt God had other plans for me, through my parents, I found myself joining the Air Force of Zimbabwe at the age of 21 and like any other military trainings, the course was very tough, painful and demanding.”

The soft spoken Flight Lieutenant, visibly shied while narrating the period in which she underwent intensive and vigorous military training, the painful training which brought off the feminine cocoon.

“The road to where I am today was not just a walk in the park. We were training with men, carrying out the same duties with them, and we were expected to perform equally. That is when I told myself that I can do what men can do, and that became my every day motto, and the motto kept me going.

“I came 5th on our Basic Military Training out of 46 trainees and that impressed me. Let me jump to where I started ‘flying’. It was in 2015 when I began the basic training for pilots, we call that Genet SF260 Fixed Wing, which is just a normal plane.

“The very first day to fly was a nightmare. I screamed and my instructor was annoyed. He took me outside and we talked. On that day I could not get back to the plane and I went home scared.”

Mapiye had to come back on the third day, full of confidence and determination, the confidence which was to be boosted later by her instructor who kept on encouraging her to be calm and focused.

“I remember my instructor telling me not to disappoint him because he had told people that I had great potential. That also added to my confidence. The following day was amazing, all the fear had gone.

“From that day I told myself that what a man can do, a woman can do, and eventually the plane became my second office, home and I feel comfortable in it,” she said.

After completion of the basic training, Mapiya, who still felt the sky will not be her limit, enlisted for combat helicopter training.

“Then came the helicopter combat training. I threw my name in the hat. I already imagined myself in the sky with a loaded war plane. My colleagues, including my superiors, tried to talk me out of my decision, but their persuasion only served as a catalyst which stimulated my ambition. I was eventually selected.

“My wish is to be a VIP pilot, I want to be the first female to fly the President. I also want to be involved in rescue missions.”

As a successful pilot, Mapiye said her secret to success is prayer, enthusiasm, confidence and knowing what she wants in life.

She had words of advice to her female colleagues in the society.

“My word of advice to other women and girls is they should always think positively of themselves, be innovative for change. To the girls out there, build your lives, think smart and be confident. Let all be thankful as women to our Government which is ensuring women empowerment,” she said.

“You see. Our President is a visionary leader. By empowering women, he knows he is empowering the nation. I am even grateful to the AFZ for discovering and nurturing this talent in me. I can see that even the sky for me is not the limit. I have something in my life to celebrate, especially on this Women’s Day.”