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By Amanda Watson

News Editor


7 SANDF members die in one day – What went wrong?

A devastating day for the SANDF sees the loss of seven members in two separate incidents, sparking questions and investigations.


Questions are being raised following the deaths of submariners on Wednesday. Altogether, seven South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members died on the same day, with three from the navy and four from the army. “There’s always some element of the general public who immediately blame what they see as ‘obvious’ causes and to assume incompetence after an accident like this,” said Darren Olivier, African Defence Review director and defence analyst. “‘Why exercise in rough seas’ has been one that I’ve seen.” Lieutenant-Commander Gillian Elizabeth Hector (executive officer), Master Warrant Officer William Masela Mathipa (coxswain) and Warrant Officer Class One…

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Questions are being raised following the deaths of submariners on Wednesday.

Altogether, seven South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members died on the same day, with three from the navy and four from the army.

“There’s always some element of the general public who immediately blame what they see as ‘obvious’ causes and to assume incompetence after an accident like this,” said Darren Olivier, African Defence Review director and defence analyst.

“‘Why exercise in rough seas’ has been one that I’ve seen.”

Lieutenant-Commander Gillian Elizabeth Hector (executive officer), Master Warrant Officer William Masela Mathipa (coxswain) and Warrant Officer Class One Mmokwapa Lucas Mojela (coxswain in training) from the SA Navy died when they were swept off the bow of the submarine SAS Manthatisi at about 2.30pm.

READ: Monster waves and an air ambulance: Inside the daring rescue to save 7 mariners swept out to sea

Hector was SA’s – and Africa’s – first female submarine navigator.

“Real life isn’t so simple. Military personnel are required to do extremely risky tasks in the course of their duties and being adequately prepared means practicing them as often as possible in the most realistic conditions possible, including in rough weather and bad seas,” Olivier said.

“Although care is taken to reduce risk it can never be entirely avoided during realistic training. Knowing where to draw the line between conditions realistic enough for good training and dangerous enough that the situation is no longer controlled is a tricky balance and seldom obvious.”

According to the navy, the Manthatisi was en route to Cape Town from Kommetjie, when high waves swept seven crew members out to sea while conducting a “vertical transfer by means of a SA Air Force Maritime Lynx helicopter”.

The NSRI from Kommetjie was dispatched. All seven were recovered but there were three deaths, with one senior officer in critical condition.

The remaining members, including a surface swimmer, are currently in hospital.

“Something went badly wrong; something that defeated the navy’s normal and well-tested procedures for this type of operation,” said Olivier.

“We may not have a full picture until the inquiry is completed, but it’s unlikely to have been a simple and straightforward cause. It’s important, however, that lessons be learned from this and incorporated into the navy’s training.”

In a separate incident on the same day at about 5.20pm in the Northern Cape, four SANDF members died when a front tyre burst of the broken-down Samil 50 they were in while being towed.

The four were ejected from the vehicle, which rolled over them. Another two were critically injured, with another nine suffering minor injuries.

All the members were from 8 SA Infantry in Upington.

SA National Defence Force Union national secretary Pikkie Greef said the facts surrounding the incidents were unclear “and no doubt the SANDF will be conducting an inquiry”.

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