A salute to Rear-Admiral Gladys Mbulaheni
By Daphney Maja
As we celebrate Women’s Month in 2020, the SA Navy charts forward and breaks new ground as a “first for women” had been achieved, a barrier had been broken and all hope of greater transformation has awoken.
To be exact, it is two months since the SA Navy appointed its first female rear-admiral.
It was in the seventies when Rear-Admiral Gladys Mbulaheni was born in Soweto. During that decade, it was then the best of times and equally the worst of times; it was an age of wisdom and an age of foolishness. It was the height of the Cold War globally; it was at the height of independence for Africa.
South Africa was engulfed in uprisings while the military was engaged in conflict on the continent. It is said that your childhood settings, surroundings, influences and experiences ultimately shape the character of adulthood. This is articulated by William Wordsworth in his paradoxical poem The Rainbow, when he says that the child is the father of the man.
It was also in this decade when the UN declared 1975 as International Women’s Year. It was also the decade where the first woman (Anna Mae Hays) was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general in the US Army, as well as the first female admiral (Alene Duerk) in the US Navy.
And so the stage was set for Rear-Admiral Mbulaheni to continue the legacy of women breaking barriers in the military. As the SA Navy became involved in Operation Savannah in that decade, Soweto had given birth to a future leader who would later become the first female rear-admiral in the SA Navy.
It might also be said that part of the influences that have shaped Rear-Admiral Mbulaheni have been the historical heroines of Africa. The continent has had cause to celebrate its queens, our foremothers, from Queen Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba in Angola, who had great political and diplomatic acumen as well as brilliant military tactics.
South Africa in this regard has been no exception. We speak of Queen Modjadji or Rain Queen of Balobedu, who had special powers including the ability to control clouds and rainfall. Further along, on August 9, 1956, the women of South Africa gave the country a legacy to be proud of. An estimated 20000 women staged a march to the Union Buildings and side by side, found strength in their unity and voiced their views via petition to the then government.
So profound was their action that the new democratic South African government celebrated its first Women’s Day on August 9, 1995.
Given the loud message that women’s protests and actions have sought to highlight, various bodies and institutions have enacted legislation and guidelines in support of women all over the world. Some of these pieces of support include UN Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. The AU followed with the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa that reinforced the commitment to international and regional women’s rights instruments.
As an inspirational leader, Rear-Admiral Mbulaheni developed her skills and abilities. She has a BA degree in government administration and development, a postgraduate diploma in security studies and is currently studying for an MBA degree. Some of her achievements include being appointed to the GEPF Board of Trustees, as well as being admitted as a member of the Institute of Directors of SA.
Behind every successful woman, there is a remarkable partner, parent and a family as a supportive structure and shield that protected her against the hardships of the world. Rear-Admiral Mbulaheni is indebted to her family for their immense contribution in shaping and influencing her to become the person she is today.
It is thus in this Women’s Month that we pay tribute to her with the following words from Jim Rohn:
“The same winds blow on us all
The winds of disaster, the winds of change, the winds of opportunity
Therefore it is not the blowing of the wind but the setting of the sails that will determine our direction in life”
May calm seas of success, fair winds of good health and happiness continue to define the rest of Rear-Admiral Mbulaheni’s passage.
* Maja works at the SA Navy public relations department and writes in her personal capacity