By Cindy Zeilhofer

It's "anchors aweigh" for the first female Admiral of the South African Navy. Khanyisile Litchfield-Tshabalala, a self confessed Orlando Pirates fanatic and perfectionist, will take on the rank of Rear-Admiral (Junior Grade) Director Fleet Human Resources in Simon's Town on January 1 2004.

"I started crying when they told me," she said with a laugh. "I've always been indebted to the navy. They are a serious family with close-knit relationships," she said.

Litchfield-Tshabalala said her appointment was not her own doing and she gave much credit to the navy itself. "It does not matter how good or talented you are - without the right environment and support, you will get nowhere."

Born and raised in Soweto, Litchfield-Tshabalala joined the military arm of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe, and went into exile in Angola in the 1980s.

In 1993, she returned and completed a degree at the University of Cape Town in politics and drama as well as an honours in criminology.

She will be completing her masters in criminology at the end of this month.

She joined the SA Navy in April 1997 after debating which branch of the SANDF to join.

"What impressed me and convinced me to join the navy was the fact that they wanted you to have a tertiary education. To me that is very important," she said.

She quickly moved up the ranks and has now made history.

But do not call her a heroine.

"Individuals don't become heroes on their own, it happens with a good support structure."

Commander Brian Stockton worked with Litchfield-Tshabalala when she first joined the navy, and he could not have put it better when he said: "It is good to have her aboard."