Simon’s town Museum celebrates the centenary of the SS Mendi

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This year marks 100 years since the sinking of the ship SS Mendi off the coast of England.

As part of centenary celebrations, the SS Mendi travelling exhibition currently on display in Simon’s Town in the South Peninsula is expected to move around the Western Cape in the next few weeks.

About 800 men went to fight in the First World War assisting the British troops and allies. They drowned following a collision between SS Mendi and another ship, 607 died.

This song Lizalis “idinga lakho” composed by Reverend Tiyo Soga was sung by the sea men aboard the sinking ship with death starring them in their faces. They also stomped their feet on the deck in what was known as the death dance.

A clerick aboard the ship Reverend Isaac Dyobha uttered these words urging his fellow sea men to remain calm and be united in the face of imminent death as the ship sank.

Simon’s Town Museum spokesperson, Vicky Mlanjeni, has called on South Africans to take comfort from the words of Reverend Dyobha one of the sea martyrs:

“Reverend Dyobha called all the men together and he emphasised that although they were from many different backgrounds and groups they would face the danger and death as brothers so I believe for me it’s a perfect example of how South Africans must come together as have in the past and face the challenges as brothers and sisters because we are much stronger together.”

The exhibition showcases the lives of more than 600 members of the South African Native Labour Corps who were conscripted to fight in the First World War in Europe.

They drowned in the icy sea after the SS Mendi collided with another ship in February 1917.

Curator Mlanjeni, says the exhibition will be on display at various museums in the next coming weeks:

“The exhibition was prepared and put together by museum service Western Cape government department of culture and sports to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Mendi.”

The war started in 1914 and ended in 1918 triggering a backlash especially among the black community who were against the idea of sending troops to the war in the first place.