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On 23 November 2003, the last of the SA Navy’s Daphne class submarines, SAS Assegaai (ex-Johanna van der Merwe) was paid off for the last time and destined for disposal along with her two sisters. However, with the scrapping of our first submarine, SAS Spear (ex-Maria van Riebeeck) that same year, a number of naval enthusiasts, both serving and retired, felt that she should be preserved as a museum vessel and campaigned for her retention.
As a result of their efforts, in 2005 the Naval Board approved her retention as the Navy’s first museum vessel and an annex of the Naval Museum under the conditions that it be done at no direct cost to the SA National Defence Force and carried out by volunteers who would raise funds to place it ashore where it could be used as an educational tool to promote the sciences amongst the youth as well as function as a museum exhibit.
An Assegaai Preservation Team consisting of volunteers under the auspices of the Naval Heritage Trust (NHT) was formed for this purpose. The Naval Heritage Trust is a registered Public Benefit Organization established in July 1994 with the primary objective being to generate an awareness of the South African Navy and to educate the general South African public about our naval heritage, culture and traditions.
Planning and fundraising to move the vessel ashore at the Naval Museum commenced, a major engineering challenge and very time consuming. Thus Navy Headquarters gave authority to the team of volunteers to temporarily open Assegaai as a floating museum in the East Dockyard to stimulate fundraising and promote public interest.
Initially only open during the annual Naval Festival, this was fully achieved in late 2010 when she was placed alongside a pontoon on the outer wall of the Dockyard and accessible to visitors by boat and later, due to weather limitations, by a special bus service 363 days a year (closed on Good Friday and Christmas day). All this was achieved using only volunteers.
On 1 March 2011, the submarine museum was formally opened by Chief of the Navy, VAdm Mudimu and soon established itself as a museum of technology and thus an educational attraction with numerous schools (both local and from as far as Limpopo, the Eastern Cape, Namibia and the Northern Cape) sending classes on a regular basis.
Vice Admiral Refiloe Mudimu officially opens the Assegaai Museum Submarine in 2010
No other single exhibit contains a greater variety of practical applications of technologies than a submarine. These range from basic mechanical and electrical systems to hydrodynamics, optics, sonars and many others.
Inside the SAS Assegaai (Wikipedia)
However, in 2015 it became apparent that Assegaai needed hull maintenance. The boat was closed to visitors on 02 August for a planned docking for repainting and some re-plating of the outer hull. The Navy then decided that they would take back the boat and carry out the necessary preservation.
By the time it was closed after four and a half years, the submarine had received over 56 000 visitors from 110 countries or dependencies, more than 16 000 of whom had commented positively in the visitors book. This was in spite of the difficulties in accessing the boat due to security restrictions.
There are some 124 preserved naval submarines in the world of which only six are in the southern hemisphere, Assegaai having been the only one in Africa.
SAS Assegaai (Wikipedia)
Sadly, the Navy’s declining budget meant that no further preservation could take place and in 2020 the Naval Heritage Trust (NHT) approached the Navy with a request to again assume responsibility for her preservation on behalf of the Naval Museum and prevent her disposal and scrapping. A proposal on the establishment of a permanent site and a plan for the restoration and relocation of the submarine adjacent to public access as well as a proposed agreement on the management of this new museum annex was submitted to the Navy.
On 11 May 2022 the Chief of the Navy formally signed the agreement for the NHT to again assume full responsibility for the restoration, preservation, management and operation of SAS Assegaai and its adjacent facilities at Cole Point on behalf of the SA Naval Museum.
To achieve this, the NHT needs to raise approximately R5 million (£250 000/$300 000) for the restoration of the outer hull and preparations for mounting ashore, the laying of foundations for the permanent mounting ashore and the physical move of the 650 ton boat to its new position. Also included is the refurbishment of existing facilities including toilets, classroom and display rooms as well as direct but secure access for visitors. It is planned to establish the museum in stages as follows:
1) The occupation of the museum site and laying of the foundation for mounting the boat is the first priority. At the same time, the submarine will be prepared for moving.
2) Transferring the boat to its permanent site. Three specialist companies have been consulted for this task.
3) Once on site, restoration of the outer hull, tanks and casing as well as the cutting of access opening and connection of service will commence. At the same time the museum buildings will be developed with visitor facilities, reception and briefing area as well as display and recreation spaces created within the existing two building complex which will require some minor renovations.
The NHT has already raised approximately R600 000 which covers most design and planning costs but the remaining funding needs to be sourced from public sponsorship (money or kind) and donations. Where possible, commercial sponsorship for specific tasks will facilitate public acknowledgement. Whilst the submarine remains a naval exhibit on naval property, the management, maintenance and operation of her will fall under the Naval Heritage Trust.
As it is a purely volunteer organisation, the professional management and daily running of the museum annex will be carried out by the Simon’s Town Amenities Development Company (STADCO) which will provide a museum manager and any additional services not available from the NHT or Naval Museum. STADCO is a registered Section 21 non-profit company formed by local community organisations in 2003 to manage local public amenities on behalf of the municipality and currently runs the town jetty and Jubilee Square.
Funding for the operating and through-life costs of the museum will be sourced from visitor donations, merchandising, functions aboard and possible filming rights. All income will be ring-fenced and controlled by a Submarine Museum Management Board appointed by the SA Navy and NHT.
The Submarine Museum, once open, will operate on a daily basis, 363 days a year as in the past and there is little doubt that she will be of major benefit to the nation as a whole through her promotion of science and technology amongst the youth as well as promoting South African industry through the example of their innovative systems aboard. At the same time she will promote the image of the SA Navy as well as be a major tourist attraction throughout the year, including school groups.
Click here for sponsorship and donation details.