Minister Anroux Marais Officially Launched SS Mendi Travelling Exhibition
WESTERN CAPE MINISTER OF CULTURAL AFFAIRS AND SPORT, ANROUX MARAIS
SS MENDI TRAVELLING EXHIBITION LAUNCH
24 NOVEMBER 2017
Good day, goeiedag, molweni nonke
It is indeed an absolute honour to address you at this very special occasion today. As the centenary of the sinking of the SS Mendi draws to a close, we launch the travelling exhibition, We die like brothers: the sinking of the SS Mendi today.
Making this exhibition all the more significant is that it encourages us to once again reflect on this tragic incident as a reminder of where we come from as South Africans. In remembering the disaster, we also recall the role played by our people in World War 1.
Prevailing stories of the war often exclude the role of black people, who were not treated as equals. The bravery and effort of the men who signed up for this war is particularly noteworthy given that they did so on the promise that their participation would bring improvements in the status of black people in South Africa. The promise was not honoured despite most of the men paying the ultimate price. Stories of war also often neglect the role played by those doing hard labour. Black men were not allowed to carry arms but they played a crucial role in the war. This exhibition is about their story.
Officially 646 deaths were recorded: 30 crew members, 2 military officers, 7 non-commissioned officers and 607 members of the South African Native Labour Corps. 267 survivors were recorded. Most of the deceased were never recovered.
Many black South Africans have long regarded the sinking of the Mendi as a symbol of unity, solidarity and bravery. In 2004, under the democratic government, the Order of Mendi was instituted to recognise civilian bravery in honour of this memory.
The lyrics of the song they sang while doing the Death Dance was a prayer for us, for the nation. In the face of death these men bravely stood in the gap for a better life for fellow citizens, which is why they contributed to the war effort as diggers of trenches, offloading cargo and dockworkers, to name a few.
Older residents of Langa tell us that many of the men from the Eastern Cape spent time in Langa before they were stationed on the old Rosebank Showgrounds which is now part of UCT before their departure from Cape Town harbour. Therefore, our Department considered it fitting to honour these men through this travelling exhibition to acknowledge this little known history throughout the province.
Although natural erosion processes may one day cause the wreck of the Mendi to disappear, its story, the story of bravery for the greater good, must not.
I thank you