Badges of honour — Navy pays tribute to three fallen submariners
Family members and colleagues were among the speakers at Wednesday’s memorial service who described fond memories of the three fallen submariners.
In a combined memorial service on Wednesday, the South African Navy honoured fallen officers Mokwapa Mojela and William Mathipa, who were among the trio swept off the submarine SAS ’Manthatisi last week.
In his speech, the chief of the South African Navy, Vice-Admiral Monde Lobese, explained that, upon qualification, every submariner is awarded a badge number, which has been the case since the inception of the Submarine Squadron in the South African armed forces in 1970.
“The last person to qualify is badge number 1180,” he said.
“This means only 1,180 personnel have qualified as submariners in the history of South Africa, out of a population of approximately 60 million.”
Mojela, Mathipa and Lieutenant Commander Gillian Hector were awarded badge numbers 1012, 894 and 1157, respectively. Inside a gymnasium that echoed with sobs punctuated by hymns, mourners came to know the officers for more than just their badge numbers.
Badge No 1012: Warrant Officer Class One Mokwapa Mojela
Warrant Officer Class One Mmokwapa Mojela (43) was born in Ga-Matlala in Limpopo on 11 October 1980. He was a coxswain under training at the time of his death, a “great achievement” he looked forward to adding to his military career.
Speaking at Wednesday’s memorial service, Fati Thobejane described her brother-in-law as a “people’s person” who loved everyone, adding that Mojela was a “professional certified conversationalist”.
“He was extremely kind, and he was very peaceful and very joyful. And that was radiated with his smile that was always on his face,” she said.
In her speech, Thobejane described how Mojela used to out-talk everyone, and would spend hours outside his home talking to friends and neighbours. When he spent too long outside, he was summoned by his wife, Moloko.
“He had time; he had time for people.”
Earlier, one of Mojela’s colleagues described his deep passion for submarines, jokingly saying submarines were his first love, and his wife was his second.
In response, Thobejane said: “He loved deeply. Yes, the submarine was his first love, but he loved my sister very well — Moloko, his beautiful wife.”
She also spoke of Mojela’s love for his faith and the compassion he showed for others.
“What a legacy; what a hero.”
Mathipa is survived by his wife, Moloko; daughter, Tumi Mojela (16); and son, Oratile Mojela (12).
Badge No 894: Master Warrant Officer William Mathipa
Master Warrant Officer William Mathipa (48) was born in Ga-Dikgale in Limpopo on 28 February 1975. At the memorial ceremony, he was described by many as a “proud Limpopo man”.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Three fallen submariners to be ‘forever honoured’ by SA Navy
In 2017, he was appointed as the first African coxswain on a Type 209 submarine, on SAS ’Manthatisi, where he held the post until the time of his death.
“Mathipa was a selfless and dedicated team player. He was a confident, disciplined submariner who displayed a high standard of initiative and always had a smile on his face. Even retired submariners can attest to this.
“He knew the boat exceptionally well and he trained most of the current serving officers. No matter the time or day, he was always willing to assist with any electrical challenges on board,” said SA Navy chief Lobese.
In his speech, Mathipa’s cousin Frans Mehlape spoke about Mathipa’s “kindness, humour and unwavering dedication”.
“We can only be proud of him.”
He is survived by his wife, Mohlatlego Francina Mathipa, and his daughters, Relebogile Mathipa and Makotong Marumo Mathipa.
Badge No 1157: Lieutenant Commander Gillian Hector
Lieutenant Commander Gillian Hector (33) was born in Gqeberha on 30 November 1990. She was the first woman in Africa to navigate a submarine. She moved swiftly up the ranks within the Submarine Squadron and held the post of executive officer aboard the SAS ’Manthatisi at the time of her death.
Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘She was exceptional’ – mentor remembers Lt Gillian Malouw-Hector, first woman in Africa to navigate a submarine
On Wednesday, Hector’s brother Steward Malouw described his sister as “fearless, adventurous, courageous, confident, creative, positive, caring, loving and so much more.
“She went to sea, like any other day, doing what she loved. And, oh, she loved the sea. She lived for her calling at the navy,” he said.
Hector is survived by her husband, Romero; son, Tristan; mother, Bernadette; and siblings, Leverne, Anneline and Steward. DM
Read Daily Maverick reporter Estelle Ellis’ reflection in memory of Hector, in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper this weekend.