Mendi tragedy still gives inspiration


South Africans can still draw inspiration from the bravery of the men of the South African Native Labour Corps (SANLC), who died in the English Channel on the troopship SS Mendi 94 years ago, Chaplain Bill van der Walt of the South African Air Force (SAAF) said Sunday.

Addressing guests at the Mendi Memorial in Atteridgeville, Pretoria, Van der Walt said: “In South Africa and beyond, the tragedy of the SS Mendi became legendary. This single event sparked the vision to interpret the past as tool of reconciliation and healing.”

He added: “The SANDF involvement in peacekeeping missions in Africa is appreciated by many. Citizens of countries like the DRC, Burundi and Sudan have the highest respect for South African soldiers who dedicate their lives so that they can have peace and reconciliation in their countries. We also think of the families of those who are deployed, staying at home supporting their loved ones.”

Major General Vusi Masondo represented Chief of the Army, Brigadier General Samuel Madumane stood in for Chief of the Air Force and Rear Admiral Mosuwa Hlongwane laid a wreath for the Chief of the SA Navy”. The diplomatic corps and top municipal officials, as well as military veterans organisations were present at the memorials. Executive Mayor Kgosientso Ramakgopa of the Municipality of Tshwane (Pretoria) was present at Sunday’s Atteridgeville memorial, while Speaker of the Johannesburg Metro Council, Nkele Ntingane, represented Johannesburg at Avalon Cemetery in Soweto.

The vast majority of those who perished on the SS Mendi were black soldiers and they are remembered most by the people of these two communities. On Saturday, Councillor Ntingane said too little had been mentioned about the men of the erstwhile SA Native Labour Corps, but pointed out that the story of the event was now taught in schools nationwide.