SOUTH Africa’s High Commission to the UK, Obed Mlaba, today told Team Buntu Africa website that the centenary commemoration, in Portsmouth, of the sinking of the SS Mendi, with the loss of 640 troops of the 5th Battalion of the South African Native Labour Corps, was a poignant reminder of the valour of the men who had perished.
Over the weekend Portsmouth has been a hive of activity with the South African Navy frigate SAS Amatole visiting the UK to mark the sinking of the South African troop ship Mendi 100 years ago off the Isle of Wight.
On Saturday a South African delegation visited Milton Cemetery to lay a wreath in honour of nine victims of the Mendi’s sinking, who are buried there.
Commenting on the significance of the SS Mendi in the context of South African history, Mlaba said: “The SS Mendi is very important in the history of South Africa because most men who died on that ship were volunteers who came to assist the UK war effort. They died as committed South African soldiers who knew that going to war meant they faced the possibility of never returning home. We are very proud of them.”
He said it was heartening to know that a South African Reverend who was on board the SS Mendi had emboldened the troops to accept their inevitable demise as the ship took in water after it was accidentally rammed by a passing ship, SS Daro, in thick fog on February 21, 1917.
Mlaba also revealed that among the entourage from South Africa were 10 descendants of some of the men who had been onboard the ship. “We did our best to trace as many descendants of the men who were on the SS Mendi, as possible, and bring them over here for this very emotional occasion,” he said.
Meanwhile, sources said the Amatola will participate in the British Operational Sea Training during the visit to England before proceeding to Germany for an exercise with the German Armed forces, Exercise Good Hope VII.