South Africans are mourning the death of Lieutenant-Commander Gillian Malouw, the country’s only female submarine officer and Africa’s first female submarine officer, who was murdered during a submarine mission in Cape Town on Wednesday.
Malouw and two of her crew members died at sea after their ship was battered by heavy seas in Kommetjie, Cape Town. She was one of seven persons aboard the South African Navy submarine SAS Manthatisi, which was on its way to Cape Town. The disaster occurred during a “vertrep” (vertical replenishment) of supplies to the SAS Manthatisi submarine off the coast of Cape Town by a SA Air Force Maritime Lynx helicopter.
“The VERTREP evolution was immediately cancelled and efforts were launched to recover the members. A surface swimmer was dispatched from the helicopter to assist with the rescue,” the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) said in a statement.
Malouw, Master Warrant Officer William Masela Mathipa, and Warrant Officer Mmokwapa Lucas Mojela were among the four officers that survived. President Cyril Ramaphosa described the disaster as a “heartbreaking loss for our country.” An investigation into the occurrence has been launched by authorities.
Malouw, 32, entered the Navy in 2010 and became a combat officer in 2018 before becoming a navigator the following year. Her interest in the nautical profession began when she was a teen and joined the SA Sea Cadets.
“From a societal point of view, anything in the armed forces is generally viewed as a career for men. That’s the first barrier that you need to get over,” she said in an interview with Cape Talk in 2020 after making history as a woman navigating a submarine.
People tried to discourage her on her journey to make history but she never gave up. “They’d say, ‘Oh, we’re not sure about you’, because of my small frame or simply because they overlooked my abilities. But I never let it get to me,” she told News24.
“For the first time in the history of our submarine service, we have a female in a leadership position. It shows we’re moving in the right direction,” she said.