A Tribute to the Chief of the Navy

A Tribute to the Chief of the Navy

Vice-Admiral Johannes Mudimu CLS, DMG, SM, MMS, MMM, MMB

Rear-Admiral Bernhard H. Teuteberg (rtd) SD,SM, MMM

I met the Admiral for the first time when he reported for orientation training (1998) at the SA Naval College in Gordon’s Bay. He had just been selected to transfer from the SA Army to the SA Navy and I was ordered, as the Officer Commanding of this officer training establishment, to provide him with an orientation opportunity that would bridge the difference between the two Services. Since that first meeting we have shared many experiences and challenges, initially, within the newly formed Fleet Command, with him as the first Chief of Staff, and at Naval Headquarters, where I had the honour to serve under his command as the Director Naval Personnel and subsequently, when he became the Chief of the Navy, as his Director Maritime Plans and Chief Director Maritime Strategy. Whilst it is therefore evident that we have shared the last 14 years in the new SA Navy, it must also be remembered that we had integrated into the SANDF, respectively from different and opposing organisations, namely from umKhonto e Sizwe (MK) (Vice-Admiral Mudimu) and the old SADF (me). In my opinion our paths thus reflect the diversity of our South African history, whilst recognising that reconciliation can be achieved when our patriotic duty and loyalty is shared within a single vision of a successful South Africa, and thus SA Navy, that transcends all differences.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” – Winston Churchill

From our first meeting at the SA Naval College in 1998 I realised that I was dealing with a very special officer; an officer who was very intelligent, well read, totally committed to the RSA, the SANDF and to a well-disciplined military organisation. He was extremely inquisitive and wanted to know everything there was to know about the SA Navy. He never gave the impression of knowing everything and in fact set out to learn by listening to all members and employees of the SA Navy. It was clear that he had the courage to speak when it was required, but also to listen when that was required. His positive and constructive attitude later became the corner-stone of his leadership of the transformation process of the newly created Fleet Command. I never found him to ignore a problem, with the hope that it would go away, but always knew that he would speak his mind when a problem required his intervention. It was during this time that he had to deal with many of the problems of the SA Navy Integration Process. We sat trying to resolve many of the issues surrounding the practical problems of integration and subsequently drafted a SA Navy Integration Audit Policy that was presented to General Masondo (Chief of SANDF Integration) in Pretoria. This policy was approved for implementation and led to not only bridging training, in the correct and final musterings, but also to progression training that assisted the individual members in progressing smoothly through the various ranks. I deem this policy to be primarily responsible for an auditable, responsible and acceptable integration process in the SA Navy.

It is however as the Chief of the Navy that I came to know Vice-Admiral Mudimu the best as he steered the ship through some very turbulent times and had to navigate with caution due to the extra-ordinary demands of the time in the history of our organisation.

I believe that the following achievements serve as a monument to the leadership and times of Vice-Admiral Mudimu:

Strategic Defence Packages (SDPs).

The honeymoon was over when Vice-Admiral Mudimu became the Chief of the Navy on the 1 March 2005. The four Valour Class Frigates had been delivered from Germany, the vessels had been commissioned but still had to become operational, including having their combat suites fitted and accepted. The three Type 209 1400; Mod RSA Submarines were in the process of being launched in Germany and had to still be commissioned and brought to the RSA. Whilst his Navy had to obviously deal with the complex process of bringing these new assets into service, it also had to deal with an ageing fleet of ships that had to remain operational. The general notion that the SA Navy Force Design had been completely renewed through the SDP process was obviously flawed and the new ships and submarines brought an imbalance within the fleet; brand new vessels versus very old ships. Furthermore the complex process of vessel integration brought its own challenges; issues such as the Customer Furnished Equipment (CFE) list, codification, shore support infra-structure, limited budget, short-comings in the relatively minimised logistics support provided, training infra-structure, etc made this task immensely difficult. The SA Navy, under the leadership of Vice-Admiral Mudimu, however brought these ships and submarines into service, on time and within budget; indeed a remarkable achievement for a Navy that had been reduced to less than 7 000 people (members and employees), had to operate with a totally inadequate budget and was starting to feel the pressure of operational deployments.

A New Maritime Security Paradigm for Africa.

Whilst the SA Navy was grappling with the reality of new/old ships and submarines, the maritime security challenges on our continent became much more prevalent and visible; especially the threat of piracy, human trafficking, drug smuggling, resources theft, toxic waste dumping, etc. Vice-Admiral Mudimu quickly realised that no single littoral state on the continent could tackle these challenges single-handedly. It required a collective effort. The continent seemed to suffer from a case of sea-blindness and it was thus his vision to create a maritime security awareness and to influence all who would listen to the threats, the requirements and the potential solutions. Under his guidance, and initially in partnership with the Nigerian Navy, the Kenian Navy and the Ghanaian Navy, the Seapower for Africa Symposium was initiated. Thus far three have been held, with two being held in Cape Town. These symposia were obviously based on the example of the International Seapower Symposium, held in Newport, Rhode Island, held every two years, where Vice-Admiral Mudimu represented the RSA with much credibility and enthusiasm. This enthusiasm also led to the SA Navy being invited to attend the opening conference of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), in 2008, in New Delhi, India. The SA Navy presented a paper on cooperation at this symposium and was subsequently requested to host the 2010 IONS Conference. This invitation was declined due to the demands of the FIFA Soccer World Cup 2010 in South Africa. Subsequently Vice-Admiral Mudimu became the Chairman of IONS and the SA Navy hosted an extremely successful conference in Cape Town in 2012. All his efforts also led to the African Union taking notice, and subsequently a task team was appointed to draft the Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy 2050 (AIMS-2050) that was adopted in 2013. Furthermore it was clearly understood that strategies will remain just words on a piece of paper if they are not operationalised. In this regard he played a decisive role in the Standing Maritime Committee (SMC) of SADC and was instrumental in an Operational Bi-lateral and Tri-lateral Agreement, initially between The RSA and Mozambique and subsequently, including Tanzania. These agreements have seen the deployment of naval assets into the Mozambique Channel on a near permanent basis.

A Young and Vibrant Personnel Composition of the Navy.

Vice-Admiral Mudimu was absolutely passionate about the youth of our country and this passion was aptly exhibited in his visits to SAS SALDANHA and his personal inter-action with members of the Military Skills Development (MSD) System. His passion sometimes led to him making his personal cellphone number available to parents and learners (to the great consternation of the rest of the Navy leadership) and to a Personnel Budget that remained under threat if the Admiral had anything to do with it. He did however instil a sense of patriotism and a will to succeed in many young people of our country and his legacy is a totally rejuvenated Navy personnel composition that not only reflects the demography of our country, but perhaps as important it has given these young people hope and the opportunity to excel and succeed in an environment which, can sometimes be hostile and only recognises competence; namely the sea! This passion was furthermore evident in his participation in gender, disability and youth summits and conferences. Vice-Admiral Mudimu also had a very charitable side to his make-up and this translated directly into the C Navy Charity Prestige Ball being able to donate nearly R1 000 000 to various charities over the last number of years. The Navy as a whole also became much more community centred and much work was done in orphanages and schools across the country.

The Acceptance of the SA Navy as a Credible Deterrence from the Broader International Naval Community.

Vice-Admiral Mudimu made it clear from the beginning that the SA Navy could only serve as a credible deterrence if it was able to demonstrate its ability to fight at sea. This meant that members of the Navy had to be able to operate all the various capabilities within the Navy when called upon to do so. This was particularly true for exercises within the SADC region, the greater Continent and in fact with all the international Navies that had visited our shores. The SA Navy thus participated in numerous exercises with foreign navies during his time as was seen during Exercises IBSAMAR (Brazil and India), Good Hope (Germany, later including SADC), Oxide (France), Good Tidings (SADC), ATLASUR (Brazil, Argentina & Uruguay), InterOp East/West (SADC/Rest of Africa) and Shared Accord (USA). Every opportunity was used to exercise (Passex) with vessels from foreign vessels rounding the Cape or visiting our shores. All these exercise ensured that our personnel could practice their prowess against Navies as professional as any on this planet. The exercises also gave the SA Navy much confidence that it could in fact operate its own capabilities optimally. The Chief of the Navy further interacted on a continuous basis with the leaders of the Navies in Africa and further afield within the greater international environment. It is my considered opinion that the SA Navy was batting much higher in the batting order of navies than had previously been the case and had become the promoter of foreign policy when abroad. I believe that when the SA Navy formed part of President Zuma’s delegation to Brussels, for the 2012 RSA/EU Summit, it gave recognition to the importance of maritime security and the role that Vice-Admiral Mudimu had played in advocating the role of navies; indeed a very important achievement.

The Introduction of the New Capabilities.

Perhaps not as spectacular as the SDPs the SA Navy did manage to achieve smaller but important milestones during his tenure as Chief of the Navy. In order to cater for these new vessels the electricity reticulation system in the dockyard had to be modernised and rebuilt, the fuel supply system had to be totally upgraded, a new vessel signature measurement and management system had to be introduced, new workboats (small tugs) had to be brought into service, the submarine simulator training system had to be totally renewed, a submarine diving escape simulator was commissioned next to the diving school (first of its kind in the Southern hemisphere), the frigate and submarine test-beds had to be introduced, etc. Furthermore, in a response to a request for assistance within the peace-mission environment from the then CSANDF the Navy created the Maritime Reaction Squadron (MRS). What is perhaps not known, or understood, is that the establishment and fitting-out (Project ZENA) of this new capability was done with additional funds received from Treasury for this purpose and that the running costs of this capability has been made a baseline adjustment to the budget of the SA Navy. The same can be said for the acquisition of the Shallow Water Route Survey System that was acquired in time for the role that the SA Navy played in ensuring the underwater safety of specific ports in the RSA. This system provided the SA Navy with an interim MCM capability, but also gave direction to the technology plans for the future. What must be understood that none of these achievements would have been possible without the thinking, drive, promotion and enthusiasm of the Chief of the Navy.

A Vision for the Future.

The Chief of the Navy, Vice-Admiral Mudimu, very clearly understood that the SA Navy had to look beyond the new frigates and submarines and that in terms of the White Paper on Defence and the Defence Review, new and replacement capabilities had to be planned for and acquired. This vision for a new future thus included patrol vessels, a replacement hydrographic survey platform, a totally rejuvenated and renewed MCM capability, new boats, tenders and tugs, the eventual replacement of the SAS DRAKENSBERG, a Multi Mission Strategic Projection Capability and many others. What perhaps is less known is that all of these capabilities were presented, and accepted to and by, all the various attempts to update and/or rewrite the RSA Defence Review. A testimony to the thinking and credibility of the SA Navy, and thus Vice-Admiral Mudimu, not only within the SANDF but also in the greater Defence family and beyond. I believe his vision for the future of the SA Navy, to be perfectly encapsulated in “The Navy Commander’s Intent”:

“A small, first-class Navy that is respected worldwide as the leading Navy on the Continent of Africa, able and willing to meet all commitments, in terms the Constitution, and thus the intentions of the Commander in Chief, in an effective, efficient and economic manner”

Vice-Admiral Mudimu is well known for his extra-ordinary oratory abilities and could deliver a magnificent speech, inspiring those listening to greater heights, without any preparation or notes. In later years when he was being quoted he however preferred to have a written speech in front of him, but was known to add to the written word, which provided his speeches with much authenticity. This habit then also became the norm for meetings of the Navy Staff/Command Councils; meetings were used not only to advise the Chief on issues but served to educate and involve all members in the various councils. This meant that meetings became very long and the Chief used them to the full in clarifying issues and to create consensus.

Unfortunately, all these achievements, and more, were achieved despite the attempts by a very small minority, who were following their own agendas, and could only seem to achieve something irrelevant through making others fail, in order to minimise the success of our Chief of the Navy. He knew exactly how to deal with these individuals and carried on regardless achieving beyond all expectations. Greatness was however achieved by taking small, but planned and deliberate steps, in the right direction, and with enthusiasm, absolute passion, loyalty, much sacrifice, patriotism, credibility, willpower, fearless and with the eye always on the vision of the SA Navy remaining ‘Unchallenged at Sea”!

I am and was proud to have served during this time and would certainly serve under the Admiral again, in whatever capacity, as I have always trusted his loyalty to the SA Navy, the SANDF and our country.

Vice-Admiral Mudimu is now retiring from the active service of the SANDF and surely there can be no way that this country can and should allow this remarkable individual to disappear into the obscurity of retirement. His contribution to our country has been immeasurable and his abilities are legendary; I am convinced that our country will benefit from his appointment to a higher office in the public service.

In conclusion may I use this opportunity to wish Vice-Admiral Mudimu and his wife, Yvonne, a very happy retirement by recalling an old Gaelic Blessing:
“May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

Hambakahle my Shipmate