The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 16 No 6 - December 2015


By Commander Leon Steyn,
Curator, SA Naval Museum

The Transformation Display at the South African Naval Museum in Simon's Town was officially opened by Flag Officer Fleet, Rear Admiral Bravo Mhlana on Wednesday 11 March 2015. The project was initiated by Vice Admiral Johannes Mudimu shortly after his appointment as Chief of the Navy in 2005. The task was given to the Naval Museum to provide a new display that will tell the story of the transformation of race and gender in the SA Navy through the years. Its purpose was to provide a much needed balance of our history that would make the SA Naval Museum more representative of the entire Navy and its people, as we see it today.

Rear Admiral Bravo Mhlana, Flag Officer Fleet, officially cuts the ribbon to open the display.

In his address, Admiral Mhlana said: 'We have got a story to tell, a good story and the SA Naval Museum is there to narrate and display that story.' He furthermore emphasized that it is the Fleet's intention to make the Museum more inclusive of all the people of the Navy, not just a particular gro.uping. 'We need the Navy's own people to visit the Museum, to take ownership, to tell their own story', he said.

The new Transformation Display at the Naval Museum is the first of its kind in the Department of Defence and the first consolidated effort to capture and display this important part of history, an effort that will no doubt be replicated by the other arms of services. Its focus is on important landmark events that saw the transformation of the SA Navy, through the years: The first 'Non-Europeans' serving in the naval forces during the Second World War; the involvement of African dockyard workers in Simon's Town through the years; the first appointment of Coloured people into the SA Navy during the 1960s; the inclusion of women in uniform during the early 1970s; the formation of the Indian Training Battalion and SAS JALSENA during the 1970s; and the integration of non-statutory forces, Umkhonto we Sizwe and the Azanian People's Liberation Army into the SA Navy after 1994.

The new display includes a twenty year timeline to commemorate the transformation,
operations and individual achievements of the South African Navy since 1994.

Interwoven with these historic events are the stories of many individuals who lived and died: The tragic story of SS Mendi; the valour of Job Masego during the Second World War; the sad loss of Coloured Corps members off Kalk Bay in 1965; the achievements of women in the SA Navy; Umkhonto we Sizwe training in Russia and naval training in Baku; and the SA Navy's integration success story at SAS Saldanha and the SA Naval College. An historic timeline illustrates twenty years of operational and personal achievements in democracy.

The new display incorporates a section on Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).

It is hoped that the new display will open up healthy discussions and lively debate about our rich and varied naval history. The curator of the museum believes that this, in turn, will lead to our people sharing more of their own stories and memories of the past to make the SA Naval Museum, their own. The SA Naval Museum is open seven days a week from 09:30 15:30. A pedestrian entrance to the museum is situated off St Georges Rd (Main Rd) in Simon's Town. Entry to the Museum is free of charge, but a donation can be made towards the Naval Heritage Trust. For more information on the new display and tours of the SA Naval Museum, contact the Officer in Charge, Cdr Leon Steyn at 021 7874622/4686.

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