First black officer takes command of SA submarine

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Commander Handsome Thamsanqa Matsane made history today by becoming the first black officer to assume command of a submarine in Africa.

Matsane took over command of the submarine SAS Queen Modjadji I from Commander Neville Howell at a ceremony at Simon’s Town Naval Base in Cape Town. Matsane enlisted in the South African Navy in 1998 and first served aboard the fleet replenishment ship SAS Drakensberg and the frigates SAS Isandlwana and SAS Spioenkop before transferring to the Submarine Squadron. Prior to his current command, he served as executive officer aboard SAS Charlotte Maxeke, another Type 209 submarine.
“Lucky for me some hard work paid out and I became the Commanding Officer of the submarine today,” Matsane told defenceWeb. “I’m proud of being the first (black) African to be in command of a submarine,” Matsane continued, “It was hard work to get here, this is not a place where you can just be given command. During training, in 48 hours you might get just two hours sleep, or no sleep at all.”

Perhaps it is appropriate that the change of command ceremony took place a day before South Africa celebrates Freedom Day, something which Matsane thought was a good thing. Matsane is looking forward to assisting new and junior ranks to qualify as submariners and to make sure that the person who takes over from him is a person of colour. “(This) would be an advantage to the whole of South Africa, but whoever comes would be great,” Matsane continued.

However, Matsane acknowledged that the Submarine Squadron was short of manpower.
“We need a lot of guys and ladies from all over South Africa. South Africa is about 60 million people and people who have qualified as submariners since 1969 is about 1050. It is a calling for a lot of people, but not everyone can do it, you need to be a little bit crazy in the head!” was how Matsane described it.

Submarines are a dangerous place to live and work, but, according to Matsane, “it’s not about how many times you go down, but the times you go down must be the same as the times you go up.
“Submarines are safe, but if you forget they’re dangerous, then you’re in the wrong business,” Matsane said. “I’m looking forward to all the risks which I know of and training was so hard that all the risks, when they come, you are prepared for it.”

Looking to the future, Matsane said that he wants “more people to join (the submarine flotilla) and more people to be qualified like me, but what the Navy and Parliament want to achieve is what I want to achieve.”

Having served as commanding officer of SAS Queen Modjadji I for the past two years, Howell will continue to be involved with the Submarine Squadron. He has been transfered to the Submarine Operational Sea Training (OST) unit where he will be tasked with ensuring that the technical aspects and the personal manning the Navy’s three Type 209 submarines operate safely and effectively.