The sinking of the S.S. Mendi, 1917
Description of Book:
The book, entitled Black Sacrifice: The Sinking of the SS Mendi, was written by Rev Dr Gladstone Sandi Baai before his death and was completed posthumously by his daughter, Gandhi Baai.
He is the only African historian to have written an interpretation of the sinking of the SS Mendi. In it, he discusses the event in terms of “black sacrifice”, starting before the First World War and ending post-apartheid with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The SS Mendi sailed from Cape Town on January 16 1917 to La Havre in France. On board were 805 black privates, 22 white officers and 33 crew members.
The SS Mendi collided with the SS Darro in the English Channel on February 21 1917. The SS Darro was more than twice the size of the SS Mendi. It took only 25 minutes for the SS Mendi to sink and 607 black South African soldiers died in the icy waters. The captain of the ship, Stump, was later charged for violating all navigation regulations and sailing away, leaving drowning men in his wake.
An indelible recollection of what happened was provided by the bard of the nation, Samuel Edward Krune Mqhayi (1875-1945), in the epic elegy Ukuzika kuka Mendi.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela aptly sums up the themes in her foreword: “We need to understand that we breathe today in SA because of the continuous black sacrifice.”
Political cleric, author and community leader, the Rev Isaac William Wauchope Dyobha, led the dying men in prayer and song, with the words, “Let us die like brothers”.
Dyobha’s legacy has been honoured by the South African Navy with a Warrior-class strike craft named after him. – Struan Douglas (Business Day)
“I love his thinking because as much as he was an Africanist and a true believer in black liberation, the man was not strident. You can almost feel his character… his good heart beneath his writing.” – Bongani Madondo
About the author:
Rev. Dr. Sandi Baai had a varied career. He was born in December 1942 at Kwa Ndunge Village, Mbizana and died in 2012 in Johannesburg. He was a Methodist minister, theology lecturer at Rhodes University, director of ethics at the Public Service Commission, South African Human Rights Commissioner and author of OR Tambo — Teacher, Lawyer and Freedom Fighter.