By Babalo Ndenze

A former Umkhonto weSizwe guerrilla fighter has assumed command of a City class vessel, the SAS Kapa.

Lieutenant Commander Bubele Kitie Bravo Mhlana became commanding officer of the SA Navy warship on Tuesday, as part of the SANDF's transformation process.

The handing over took place during the combined change of command parade at the SA Naval Dock Yard in Simon's Town.

Mhlana, from Umtata in the Eastern Cape, worked in MK underground structures in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal. He has been in the navy since 1994.

"We didn't have a navy in the MK as only a few of us got the opportunity to train in Cuba and Russia," he said.

"When the integration process came into play, there was finally a chance to join."

Mhlana adapted very quickly. "I didn't have to start from scratch, MK shaped me well in terms of military discipline."

Mhlana completed his training from midshipman to officer commanding in three-and-a-half years.

Married, with two children, he said there were big differences between MK and the SA Navy.

"The navy is more organised and everything is under control, whereas MK was a guerrilla army and lacked resources.

"During the days of MK, our families didn't know what we were doing because we worked underground."

Not only is Mhlana a dynamic leader, he's also a keen sportsman and was a former professional boxer. Before turning professional, he fought 200 amateur bouts and was defeated only six times.

Mhlana no longer fights but would like to start his own club and train children.

He is seen as a role model for disadvantaged youngsters.

"There is a great misperception that black people will never sail a ship or fly a plane. I urge every youngster to follow their dream.

"There are great opportunities at sea, and children from rural areas and townships must use them," said Mhlana.