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​City remembers fallen Mendi heroes

City of Johannesburg Speaker Councillor Constance Bapela on Sunday urged the public to keep the memories of the 607 South African troops who perished when the vessel SS Mendi sank in the English Channel during First World War alive.

Speaking at Avalon Cemetery in Soweto on Sunday at the memorial service to mark the 98th anniversary of the sinking of SS Mendi following a collision with SS Darro on 21 February 1917, Councillor Bapela said South Africans should keep supporting such ceremonies as the people who died did so while serving the country.

The vessel SS Mendi left Cape Town on 16 January 1917 with 802 members of the 5th Battalion, 22 officers and 33 crew members on board. In total 646 people lost their lives in the accident.
The ship was on its way to La Havre, France, when it sank.

Sunday’s memorial service was attended by representatives of families of the deceased and members of the diplomatic corps, particularly of those countries that were part of the allied forces. These included Britain, United States, France, Japan, Belgium, the Netherlands, Argentina, Korea, Spain and Chad.

The countries paid homage to the fallen heroes by laying wreaths at the memorial stone bearing the deceased’s names.

The service also paid tribute to veteran legionnaire Frank Sexwale, father of former Gauteng Premier and Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale.

Sexwale Snr, the first chairman of the Soweto branch of the South African Legion, died on Tuesday 17 February and was buried on Saturday.

Councillor Bapela said had those who died not paid the ultimate prize, the country would not be where it currently was today. “Let us also think of so many others who have served our country in many other wars, battles and liberation struggles to ensure we live in peace and harmony. We need to give our thanks to those who perished during those struggles. We must also remember those who sustained injuries and endured hardship, the lack of education and joblessness as a result of their selflessness to serve their country,” she said.

The Speaker also appealed to South Africans not to forget the families, spouses and dependents of the dead. “We must remember that these families also suffered by losing their loved ones.”