Remembering SS Mendi - 21st Feb 1917
The SA Diaspora UK hosted a remembrance service for the South African Native Labour Corps #SANLC in Southampton on Saturday 24th Feb 2018 in which I was honoured to be invited to speak at the ceremony.
On 21st February 1917, Mendi sank killing 646 people, most of whom were black South African troops, when a large cargo steamship, Darro, collided with Mendi in the English Channel south of the Isle of Wight. (pic by SAHO)
Their role was to build the railways, trenches, camps and roads upon which the Allied war effort depended. The men had signed up because they believed that, despite being oppressed by the white South African government, if they demonstrated loyalty to the British Empire, it would gain them a voice in their deeply divided land.
A lost life is not a singular thing. What happens to you affects others. I can only imagine the families hearing the news that their loved ones had died on duty so far away from home. The hope that one day by some miracle they would see their loved ones walking into the kraals because after all, there wasn’t a body for closure.
Today, I pay tribute to the men that lost their lives in 1917, their families and to our fellow South Africans now, who leave their families, especially young children behind to work in services like the NHS, education and social care services.
We salute you for your bravery, sacrifices and your contribution to the UK and the South African economy. Our warrior spirits live today just as they lived in our brothers 101 years ago!
Viva Africa, viva!