Ex-MK soldier at the helm of warship

By Sivuyile Mangxamba

SA Navy chief Vice-Admiral Johannes Mudimu on Thursday dismissed suggestions that there was no future for whites in the navy.

Speaking minutes before a change of command parade at Simon's Town Naval Base to welcome the first black South African to assume command of a warship, Mudimu said there was one navy, with careers for all South Africans.

"There is one navy - it does not have careers for whites and for blacks," said Mudimu.

"I promoted five white captains to admirals last year and there was no noise.

"When I promote a single African, there is noise. They must be appreciative of what is being done."

Captain Bubele Mhlana, 35, is taking command of SAS Isandlwana.

Mudimu yesterday defended the need to fast-track deserving officers who showed tremendous leadership qualities.

"If we had to wait for people to come through the ranks, it will take us 100 years (to have a representative middle and top management)," said Mudimu.

Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota defended the lack of balance in race representation in middle and senior positions of the navy in parliament on Wednesday.

Mudimu said it was important for the SA Navy to achieve equity in "accordance with the vision of our president (Thabo Mbeki)".

He was filled with pride when he watched Mhlana take over the command of the warship - part of the controversial arms deal purchase.

"If there is anything that I give to the people of South Africa with pride, it is this man," said Mudimu of Mhlana, who took over from highly decorated Captain Karl Wiesner.

The latter has been "redeployed" to SA Navy headquarters to oversee combat capability development.

At a ceremony attended by First Lady Zanele Mbeki and Lieutenant General Themba Matanzima, Mudimu said this was a new beginning for the SA Navy, a moment of rebirth and re-emergence.

Wiesner bid farewell to his crew in an emotional change of command parade.

"It is a privilege to hand over the telescope of command to Captain Mhlana," said the highly-respected officer.

This was followed by the symbolic handing over of the telescope by Wiesner and Mhlana taking the oath and accepting the role as commander of SAS Isandlwana.

It was a big day for Khuthala Mhlana, who had watched her son grow up in Ngangelizwe, one of the poorest townships in Mthatha.

She sent her son to the University of Transkei and hoped that he would one day become a chartered accountant, but the boy skipped the country and became an underground operative for Umkhonto weSizwe.

But Mhlana's mother was bursting with pride yesterday when her son led her, alongside the First Lady, to the SAS Isandlwana.

Mhlana, who refers to the warship as a "beautiful beast", is now in full command of the vessel.