The South African Navy is using “Women’s Month” to take the opportunity to salute their women submariners.
The Navy has acknowledged that the integration of women in combat roles within militaries worldwide and in particular South Africa has always been a contentious issue. The first female sailors were accepted for combat positions onboard South African warships fourteen years ago and are now successfully performing duties such as divers, coxswains and other seagoing musterings traditionally reserved for men.
According to the Navy, they have succeeded in integrating women in all combat environments including combat officers onboard warships and submariners. While women have been appointed to command the Navy’s relatively small inshore patrol vessels, Lt Cdr Latha Starling was recently appointed Officer Commanding of 47 metre SAS Victoria Mxenge, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ maritime patrol vessel operated by the Navy.
Women submariners, alongside their male counterparts, are now a permanent feature in all aspects of the South African Navy’s submarine service, a job which the Navy says is still considered “too dangerous and scary” for women in most navies worldwide.
The SA Navy now boasts fourteen qualified female submariners, consisting of five mechanical artisans, five electrical artisans, two chefs, one radio radar operator and one communicator. In addition, ten other women are working towards qualifying to become Navy Ships Divers.
The SA Navy operates and maintains three diesel-electric Class 209 Type 1400 (Mod SA) attack submarines with a Personnel Establishment Table totalling 126 posts, the majority being technical. Each submarine itself has a crew of 30.
Speaking about women on the Navy, Chief of the South African Navy, Vice Admiral Refiloe Mudimu, says that, “The South African Navy has made enormous strides in transforming itself to allow men and women to participate freely and without prejudice in all facets of the organisation, and in so doing, to become the very best that they can be. To these women I say – Your relentless efforts, commitment and enthusiasm are an inspiration to us all. You make South Africa proud”.