The three SA Navy members who died in a rescue attempt at Naval Base Durban in February will be honoured with posthumous decorations but it will not be at this year’s National Orders investiture scheduled for Friday.
The three – Leading Seaman Amrithlall Tothara Ramdin, Able Seaman Francois William Mundell and Seaman Henro Ter Borg – died when they went to assist Department of Public Works employees working on a sewage valve at the naval base. They were part of the maritime service’s detachment deployed to the east coast port city for the 2017 Armed Forces Day commemoration.
The Navy indicated all three would be recognised and honoured for their valiant, but sadly ill-fated, rescue attempt. Speaking at fleet headquarters in Simon’s Town soon after the incident, SA Navy Chief Vice Admiral Mosiwa Hlongwane said the three had shown there was no greater sacrifice than to give one’s life for one’s country or fellow countrymen.
Deon Fourie, Professor of Strategic Studies at Unisa and an authority on South African medals and decorations said the three would in all probability be honoured with the Order of Mendi.
“It is a national order and very much one to do with bravery and saving lives which is what the sailors lost their own lives doing,” he said.
The Mendi Decoration for Bravery is awarded to South African citizens who have performed extraordinary acts of bravery, placing their own lives in danger in trying to save the life of another person, or by saving property, inside or outside South Africa. It can be awarded in either gold, silver or bronze categories with a stylised SS Mendi as the central point on the award’s shield. This, according to the Presidency, represents the courage of the black South African soldiers and their fellow white officers who drowned aboard the troopship SS Mendi. It sank after being struck and almost cut in half by the SS Darro in the cold waters of the English Channel near the Isle of Wight on 21 February 1917. The men aboard, all members of the SA Native Labour Corps, were on their way to France to assist the British during the First World War.
Fourie said orders and decorations such as Mendi were usually presented once a year but could also be done at an SA Navy parade or investiture if either the SANDF Chief or Navy Chief “persuaded” the Presidency to present national honours other than at the annual investiture.
A Navy spokesman said engagements regarding the honours and posthumous presentations were “still ongoing”.
Friday’s investiture will take place at the Sefako Makgatho presidential guest house in Pretoria and will see the orders of Ikhamanga, the Baobab, Luthuli and the Companions of OR Tambo presented by President Jacob Zuma.