The Rain Queen arrives in Simon’s Town

SAS Queen Modjadji I, the last of the three new type 209 submarines acquired by the South African government arrived at the Simon’s Town Naval Base on Thursday 22 May. She was preceded by the SAS Manthatisi (which arrived in April 2006) and the SAS Charlotte Maxeke (April 2007).

She carries the name of the 1st Queen of the Malobedu Ba Ga-Modjadji, who ushered in an age of peace and harmony (you can read all about the arrival of the submarine on the SA Navy website). The Balobedu live in the Limpopo Province of South Africa.

“The succession to the position of Rain Queen is matrilineal, meaning that the Queen’s eldest daughter is the heir, and that males are not entitled to inherit the throne at all. The Rain Queen is believed to have special powers, including the ability to control the clouds and rainfall. Currently there is no ruling Rain Queen, as the previous Rain Queen died on 12 June 2005.” (Wikipedia)

In case you are wondering why on earth South Africa needs so many submarines, well, they were part of the very contentious Arms Deal (also known as the Strategic Defence Package). So now we have three brand-spanking-new subs. In addition, we also got four fabulous patrol Valour class frigates (SAS Amatola, SAS Spioenkop, SAS Isandlwana and SAS Mendi) and four Super Lynx helicopters, which the South African Air Force will operate from the ships.

The reason I only cottoned onto this exciting event now (on 13 June!) was because I spotted a tucked-away headline on Google’s South African News section, Latest addition to SA submarine fleet arrives. The article, which was published in Engineering News, was written by Dr Kelvin Kemm, who was enviably lucky to be given a tour of the new submarine. (If I’d gotten a tour, I would have written prolifically about it too!)

As an aside, the Radar Remote Sensing Group at the University of Cape Town, for which I work, were given a fascinating tour of the SA Naval Base in November 2006, including the Electronic Warfare and Strategy section, the submarine simulator, and one of the new subs, the SAS Manthathisi. It was a truly unforgettable experience. The patience our guides displayed in the face of a barrage of curious questions was impressive, and their evident pride for their work and the importance of their role in the Navy was inspirational.

Dr Kemm also told a rather amusing little anecdote that made me feel strangely patriotic for our beer-boerewors-and-braaivleis society:

“On the voyage from Germany to South Africa, the submarine crossed the Bay of Biscay, notorious for its rough seas. But the sea was so calm that, in true South African style, the crew had a braai on deck in the Bay of Biscay. South Africans will have a braai anywhere, but that had to be one of the more unusual places ever.”

The purpose of the submarines is to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance – if they’re underwater they are almost invisible and very difficult to spot. And because they have all this extremely high tech equipment on board and all kinds of top-secret stealth capabilities, they make sure that they can ‘see’ great distances while remaining unseen themselves.

As Dr Kemm continues:

“Submarines can be used to protect our national fishing areas in our ocean economic zones. Interestingly, South Africa has a sea area which is larger than our land area. This sea area contains a great deal of valuable fish, worth millions a year in potential export earnings. The famous Patagonian toothfish, found off Marion Island, a South African possession, in itself is worth a fortune.

For years, foreign fishing vessels have plundered these waters with nobody to stop them. In case readers are wondering how our sea area is larger than our land area, one has to add the sea area around Marion and Prince Edward islands, which is formally South African territory. South Africa also has a border with France.

It is possible to sail directly from South African waters into French waters. Think about it, that is a great quiz question.”

Isn’t that cool? I love that idea! (But I still have to check if he’s correct. If you know, please tell me!)

I grew up in South West Africa (now Namibia), and there were always foreign fishing vessels plundering our oceans. We lived in Swakopmund on the Atlantic Ocean, and saw these massive fishing vessels dotted all along the horizon every single day. It made us very angry, because the buggers never played by the rules – the Taiwanese, Chinese, Japanese and Russians were particularly greedy, and frequently came right into the Namibian exclusion zone and into our territorial waters. I could never understand why our Defence Force didn’t just bomb the donnerse out of them. Surely that would have put a stop to it?!

Anyhow, I am very pleased that we now have much greater capacity to patrol our country’s waters for “poachers, pirates, smugglers and illegal fishing vessels” (IOL article).

One thought on “The Rain Queen arrives in Simon’s Town

  1. The South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP) website confirms what Dr Kemm has said:

    “Marion Island, the larger of the Prince Edward Islands group, is situated at 46°54′ South and 37°5′ East in the Southern Indian Ocean. The island is situated in the ‘roaring forties’ and lies approximately 1770 km south east of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The French Crozet Island Group lies some 950 km to the east.” (

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