Ports authority celebrates journey since ‘Class of 1999’

Maritime Transformation Legacy coffee table book and documentary unveiled 

[Durban, South Africa, 23 September 2020] Throughout September 2020, port landlord Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) has commemorated its 20th year of existence and the strides made since its first marine leaders of colour, including females, began their maritime training and careers two decades ago.

The celebratory programme coincides with the country’s Heritage Month and the global commemoration of World Maritime Day on 24 September, under the theme “Sustainable shipping for a sustainable planet”.

During its virtual Maritime Heritage Celebration event on Wednesday, 23 September, TNPA unveiled its Maritime Transformation Legacy coffee table book and documentary, showcasing the stories of the pioneers who transformed its marine operations environment and created a proud legacy for the organisation and country. They also paved the way for a new generation of marine pilots, specialists in port control and aids to navigation, as well as harbour masters, who today include historically disadvantaged individuals.

TNPA’s first group of transformed marine trainees are dubbed the ‘Class of 1999’. The 12 candidates were selected for an accelerated training programme in Rotterdam aimed at bringing in a new generation of marine pilots, managers and other marine professionals into an industry which at the time was reluctant to change.

Two decades later, many of them have ascended to senior roles in the industry as documented in the book and documentary. The original 12 were:

  • Captain Rufus Lekala: TNPA Chief Harbour Master and Acting Chief Harbour Master, who began his working life as a taxi driver and worked his way right through the ranks to become the youngest Harbour Master in the world and South Africa’s first Black Chief Harbour Master. From this position, he accelerated the pace of change, driving the quest for gender equity in marine operations and creating in-house capacity to deliver TNPA’s helicopter service.
  • Captain Vernal Jones: Port Manager: Port of Saldanha, who is TNPA’s only appointed Port Manager to come from a Harbour Master background. He was South Africa’s youngest Marine Pilot when he took up duty at the Port of Richards Bay. In 2007 he was promoted to Marine Operations Manager at the Port of Mossel Bay, where he also continued to pilot vessels. He returned to Richards Bay first as Deputy Harbour Master, then Harbour Master and was later transferred to Cape Town as Harbour Master, before taking up his current position in Saldanha.
  • Captain Dennis Mqadi: Executive Manager: SHE and Regulatory Oversight, who joined the navy as a route out of poverty before joining Portnet in 1997, training as a tug master, then marine pilot and being among the first to be developed for the role of Harbour Master in a number of ports, before taking up his current role supporting smooth, safe operations.
  • Captain Naresh Sewnath: Senior Manager: Pilotage and VTS, for whom Portnet’s bursary scheme for cadets was his entry ticket to a promising maritime career that has now spanned 32 years.
  • Ms Theresa Williams: the only female in the Class of ’99. She went on to become the first Black female tug master, the first female marine pilot in Africa, the first female marine operations manager and is now the Head of Department: Maritime Studies & Survival Centre at Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
  • Port of Cape Town Open Licence Marine Pilots, Devan Pullian and Ashley Bergstedt, and Port of Richards Bay Open Licence Marine Pilot, Sabelo Xulu, who can all attest to the pull of the ocean’s currents.
  • Ephraim Kesa, Shift Manager at the Port of Durban and Eric Nkosi, Capacity Building Manager at the Port of Durban, both of whom apply their expertise in other ways in a support structure built on excellence in training, discipline and strength of character.

The remaining members, Andrew Mataung and Joseph Mbatha, both Marine Pilots, have since passed away.

Others who have made their mark and continued the legacy in subsequent intakes since the Class of 1999 have included TNPA’s Harbour Masters and Deputy Harbour Masters:


  • Captain Nontsindiso Tshazi, who became TNPA’s first female Harbour Master when she was appointed in April 2007 to take over from Captain Dennis Mqadi in the Port of East London. She later became Head of the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre for the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA).
  • Captain Alex Miya, Harbour Master at the Port of Cape Town
  • Captain Brynn Adamson, Harbour Master at the Port of Port Elizabeth
  • Captain Thulani Dubeko, Harbour Master at the Port of Ngqura
  • Captain Sabelo Mdlalose, Harbour Master at the Port of Durban
  • Captain Gugu Dube, Harbour Master at the Port of Richards Bay
  • Captain Vania Cloete, Harbour Master at the Port of Mossel Bay
  • Captain Kgadi Matlala, Harbour Master at the Port of East London
  • Captain Silindile Mdlalose: Acting Harbour Master at the Port of Saldanha
  • Captain Justin Adams: Acting Harbour Master at the Port of Durban
  • Captain Pinky Zungu: Deputy Harbour Master at the Port of Durban
  • Captain Nompumelelo Mkhize: Deputy Harbour Master at the Port of Durban
  • Captain Yael Wearley: Deputy Harbour Master at the Port of Cape Town 

Addressing skills shortage 

TNPA’s transformation efforts were led by Commander Tsietsi Mokhele, who was appointed as Transformation Manager at Transnet in 1999, with the mandate of positioning the country’s maritime sector as part of the global maritime space.

The fast-tracked training of the Class of 1999 and others to follow was introduced to address a critical shortage of marine pilots in South Africa and globally, as well as the need to create opportunities for previously disadvantaged individuals in a democratic South Africa.  The programme was delivered by Shipping and Transport College (STC) in the Netherlands. They were early adopters of simulators for training, and designed a programme that enabled the candidates, who already had at least a third class ticket, to qualify as marine pilots in a shorter period than the traditional first class ticket.

TNPA Acting Chief Operating Officer, Captain Rufus Lekala, said, “As we look back on 20 years with TNPA as an operating division of Transnet, it is with great pride that we reflect on our achievements to transform our maritime resources. TNPA has replaced and built new infrastructure, replaced and grown its fleet and developed its mariners and personnel to ensure we’re able to handle new generation vessels and to compete effectively in an increasingly competitive global market.”

More recently, TNPA also developed its own insourced aviation service, manned by a new generation of helicopter pilots and avionics engineers from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, taking its transformation agenda to the skies.

It has been a long and proud journey since the year 2000 when TNPA became a separate operating division of Transnet SOC Ltd, following the decision in 2000 to split the latter’s port business, Portnet, into landlord and terminal operator functions.

To view TNPA’s Maritime Transformation Legacy coffee table book, visit: http://ow.ly/eTHq50BwXXJ 

To view TNPA’s Maritime Transformation Legacy documentary, visit: https://youtu.be/xDI0tLr4o_0





Below: The TNPA Maritime Transformation Journey coffee table book showcases the stories of the pioneers who transformed the maritime industry and created a proud legacy for the organisation and country, including ‘the Class of 1999’. The book can be accessed at http://ow.ly/eTHq50BwXXJ

Share Button