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South Africa's first black woman Naval Commander calls the shots

 Zimasa Mabela

Zimasa Mabela grew up under apartheid in a South African village just two hours drive from the ocean, but she was 18 by the time she first saw the sea.Now, aged 38, she is the first black African woman to command a South African naval vessel. Lieutenant Commander Mabela's first visit to the beach coincided with the end of white rule in 1994 and she caught the historic wave of change that followed.She attended a presentation by the navy and was captivated by the slogan: "Join the navy and see the world."She signed up in 1999 at the age of 22 as a radio operator, and the navy has so far lived up to its promise -- she has travelled to places as diverse as India, Uruguay, St Helena island and Canada.

Now, the ship she took command of in August is berthed in Cape Town's historic Simon's Town harbour, first established by the Dutch and taken over by Britain's Royal Navy more than two centuries ago.The harbour, curled under the mountains of Cape Town's Southern Peninsular, is now South Africa's main naval base.Men make up the bulk of the ship's crew of 54, but Mabela, in an officer's uniform of crisp white shirt and black slacks, says her gender has not been a problem.