The "godmother" of South Africa's first commissioned patrol corvette, first lady Zanele Mbeki, attended the official handover of the SAS Amatola , four years after christening and launching it in Germany.

"I do not remember when I have been so proud of my country and its youth," Mbeki wrote in the ship's visitors' book.

In a combined ceremony, the SAS Amatola was handed over from the European South Africa Corvette Consortium to the South African government and commissioned into the South African Navy.

The Meko A-200 frigate, as the corvette is properly known, is one of four delivered as part of government's multibillion-rand arms package.

"The corvettes will be critical in ensuring that for many years to come the navy will be able to provide the requisite levels of operations and support to ensure the stability, peace and security of the ... coastlines of South Africa, southern Africa and further afield," Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota said during the military parade.

Speaking later, he said: "We've reached a point at which we are seeing now the outcomes of the arms procurement. It's all systems go - the nation has achieved this."

The patrol corvettes would be complemented by two German-built submarines, the first of which was scheduled to arrive in April, strike craft and inshore patrol vessels as part of a comprehensive strategic defence capability, Lekota said.

"Maritime defence capability is essential in our role as a global player fully prepared for any threats to the critical economic activity of the international sea routes around us."

Lekota's audience included Minister of Public Enterprises Alec Erwin, the chief of the SA National Defence Force, Godfrey Ngwenya, and the chief of the navy, Refiloe Mudimu.

Mudimu charged the vessel's captain, David Guy Jamieson, with the ship's commission and handed him a symbol of command, a brass telescope, before Jamieson was piped aboard.

At a media briefing earlier, the project director for the corvettes, Johnny Kamerman, said that not all had been plain sailing. For example, the installation of inadequate cables in Germany had led to a nine-month delay.

But the biggest challenge had been taking local industry from a laboratory environment into a production programme.

Nonetheless, the project had exceeded even the "most ambitious hopes", with the combat suite being chiefly South African-designed and 75% of it built by SA companies.