Rear Admiral BK Mhlana, captain of the submarine SAS Manthatisi, Charles Phokane and chief of the navy Vice-Admiral Monde Lobese are seen at the combined memorial service of three submariners who drowned off Cape Town last month. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/Brenton Geach
The R850m multi-mission inshore patrol vessel (MMIPV) King Shaka Zulu was officially commissioned by King Misuzulu on Friday, a move likely to shake up the country’s naval capabilities.
The SAS King Shaka Zulu is the second of the three MMIPVs to be received in Durban, after the SAS King Sekhukhune was received in June last year. The new vessels were procured to replace the obsolete warrior-class strike craft.
Navy chief Vice-Admiral Monde Lobese said work on the vessel commenced at the Damen shipyards in Cape Town in 2018 but was delayed by a number of factors, including the operational cost and the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The South African navy of the past had nine of these workhorses at one stage, and even then they were not enough to effectively patrol our long coastline of 2,850km. The warrior-class vessels are also more than 40 years old and are now decommissioned or scrapped,” said Lobese.
Dignitaries including members of the Zulu royal family, government officials and captains of industry were present.
Designed to undertake a variety of functions while keeping costs down, the MMIPVs can fit various configurations of containers, depending on the mission.
“If you want to clear mines, you fit the mine warfare containers. If you want to launch boarding teams to police illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, you fit davits to launch a number of sea boats at the same time,” said Lobese.
With the rise in drone technology, the navy had aligned itself with such innovations. The ships are also designed to quickly adapt from one mission to another, depending on the need. However, the country’s vast coastline is a challenge. “Though we are grateful for these three ships, our combat simulations indicate that we need at least 15 to effectively patrol our coastline,” he said.
“Furthermore, these ships are inshore patrol vessels. Though they are built to handle rough seas, the navy still needs offshore patrol vessels to patrol the coastline at the edge of our exclusive economic zone, which is 350km offshore, far out of sight of land.”
The same can be said for criminals smuggling contraband into the country, including drugs, illegal goods and even people.
It has been an incredible journey. We started in 2018. We built up our staff. There has been a massive investment which has enabled us to deliver this project
Sefale Montsi, director at the shipyards company
Lobese argued that this called for the navy to be capacitated to curb theft and criminality.
“We have to be clever in the way we use these ships. The King Shaka Zulu will for a set period be pushed to the limits without being called up for operational requirements. To achieve this, King Shaka Zulu will be commissioned into the operational fleet only upon completion of the set period,” said Lobese.
This would ensure that the navy continues to learn about the added operational and tactical capabilities of the new vessels.
The director at the shipyards company, Sefale Montsi, was full of praise. She said the initiative had created jobs and the transfer of skills.
With a capacity of more than 60 people, the assimilation of the vessel had involved multidisciplinary experts, including engineers, boiler makers, carpenters and others.
“It has been an incredible journey. We started in 2018. We built up our staff. There has been a massive investment which has enabled us to deliver on this project,” said Montsi.
Armscor CEO Solomzi Mbada said the project had been delivered on time despite unforeseen problems such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We had challenges during Covid but were able to catch up. Remember, the country had come to a grinding halt. We were also unable to get the spares we needed from abroad,” said Mbada.
The integration of the team, which comprised the manufacturer, Armscor as a contracting party and an assurer as well as the end user, had learnt a lot, he said, adding that the team exceeded and delivered on its targets.
It was the incubation of some of the companies that also impressed Mbada as it resulted to the creation of more than 1,000 direct jobs, while some companies had received a major boost through the technology transfer.
“This has led to some participating in international projects. We are quite excited. We are looking forward to also delivering the offshore patrol vessel which will go deeper,” he said.
SAS King Sekhukhune last year became the first vessel to be officially named and commissioned at the naval base in Durban under commander Jabulani Mashaba. It has also commenced the process of operational testing and evaluation, a move aimed to determine the purpose for which these vessels were procured.
His Majesty and the rest of the royal family are deeply honoured The name King Shaka signifies unity, and a lot more that we need as a nation
Prince Africa Zulu, on behalf of King Misuzulu
Prince Africa Zulu, who spoke on behalf of the Zulu monarch, said they were pleased with the honour bestowed upon King Shaka.
“His Majesty and the rest of the royal family are deeply honoured The name King Shaka signifies unity and a lot more that we need as a nation,” said Zulu.
He said not all African countries can lay claim to owning a navy.
“His Majesty is humbled that in the new government we continue to see the recognition of South African kingdoms. We are very pleased.”
He said the royal house was encouraged by how the navy had made strides in recruiting some of its members in far-flung, villages across the country.
“As a country we have an identity crisis and are in need of inspiration. The pride that goes with these jobs will take the country far. We need to collaborate. The navy has proven it has a vision,” he said.
He said the king was calling for support that would enable the country to succeed.
“The admiral has been emphatic in saying they cannot go anywhere without financial support. We need this to regulate the seas. We need more power and more jobs. We look forward to more initiatives such as these,” he said, adding that he hoped other sectors such as vehicle manufacturing would replicate what was achieved by the navy.