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Remembering the tragedy of the SS Mendi<p>​</p><p>Today, we commemorate the sinking of the SS Mendi on the morning of 21 February 1917.  </p><p>On that morning, 103 years ago, the Mendi, carrying 913 souls, was struck by the British vessel SS Darro soon after it left the harbour of Plymouth en route to Le Havre, France.  </p><p>The collision caused a 6m hole into the starboard side of the Mendi, ripping all the way through to the holds where the men were sleeping. The ship sank rapidly within half an hour, and 646 men drowned or succumbed to hypothermia. Only 267 survived. </p><p>Most of the men on board were members of the South African Native Labour Corps, who had volunteered to support the war effort. Many had signed up in the hope that this would pave the way toward greater political rights back home. </p><p>Sadly, this proved not to be the case. </p><p>It would take decades before these hopes came to fruition, and for the men who perished in those icy waters to receive the recognition they deserve. </p><p>The role and contribution of the South African Native Labour Corps was for many years erased from our history books. </p><p>However, South Africa’s transition to democracy allowed the stories and voices that had been silenced for so long to be heard once again.  Today, we honour their memory and sacrifice in various ways to ensure that their legacy is not forgotten.</p><p>In 2003, the Mendi medal for bravery was established, and one of our modern navy ships now bears its name. Their story is now included in school curricula and has become the subject of South African literature, drama, art and poetry. </p><p>The Military History Museum at Delville Wood has a depiction in bronze of the tragedy of the Mendi.</p><p>The men of the Mendi are also memorialised at Hollybook in Southampton, England; at Atteridgeville in Pretoria; at New Brighton in Port Elizabeth; at the Avalon Cemetery in Soweto; and here on the campus of UCT.</p><p>As we remember them, we should also remember the families and communities whom they left behind, and the enduring pain caused - first by their loss, and then by the many years during which their sacrifice was not appropriately recognised. </p><p>The sinking of the Mendi and the Battle of Delville Wood in July 1916 are regarded as two of our country’s most poignant war tragedies. </p><p>Let us take this opportunity to reflect on the lives cut short and the futures denied during this tragic period in our history. </p><p>Today, as we commemorate those who perished, let us be reminded of the truly horrific nature of war, of the destruction and loss it causes. </p><p>Estimates vary as to the exact number of people who lost their lives during WW1, but military casualties are estimated to be up to 11 million, and civilian casualties, which were harder to record, are estimated to be up to 6 million. </p><p>Many of those who lost their lives are forgotten, unsung victims who did not receive posthumous medals or tributes. </p><p>And so it is fitting, on this occasion, that we have the chance to remember not only those who lost their lives at sea, in the skies, on the battlefields and in the trenches, but also the countless civilians whose lives were cut short or irrevocably changed during that terrible period in our history. </p><p>In recalling the horrors of war, let us be inspired to cherish and nurture peace. </p><p>In rectifying the mistakes of the past, let us heal old wounds and look forward together to a better future. </p><p>Let us never forget the sheer wastefulness of war, and let occasions such as this inspire us to never rest until warfare has been eradicated as a means of resolving our differences. </p><p>As we stand here today, let the legacy of the SS Mendi remind us of all that was lost. May we never forget, and may we ensure that the next generation will never forget.  </p><p>We salute those who died. May you live forever in our memory.  </p><p><br><strong>End</strong></p>2020-02-29T22:00:00ZGP0|#1d539e44-7c8c-4646-887d-386dc1d95d70;L0|#01d539e44-7c8c-4646-887d-386dc1d95d70|City news;GTSet|#62efe227-07aa-45e7-944c-ceebacca891d;GP0|#8b03f782-9eb6-455f-82e9-6429b6354cf9;L0|#08b03f782-9eb6-455f-82e9-6429b6354cf9|SpeechesGP0|#98e59877-15ca-45ba-b1e2-0c46464f9c9c;L0|#098e59877-15ca-45ba-b1e2-0c46464f9c9c|deputy mayor;GTSet|#2e3de6c1-9951-4747-8f53-470629a399bb1

 

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