- Ramaphosa honoured the brave men who died in the greatest tragdey of World War I for SA
- The SS Mendi was carrying a South African Native Labour Contingent to the frontlines in France
- It collided with the SS Darro which was at ful speed with low lights in the fog
President Ramaphosa expressed his admiration and gratitude for the brave men who tragically lost their lives on this day 102 years ago, when the SS Mendi ship sank in the dense fog on the English Channel. Ramaphosa celebrated Armed Forces Day by remembering their bravery and honour their sacrifice.
The South African vessel, SS Mendi, sank after colliding with the SS Darro during World War I and was one of the greatest tragedies in the war for South Africa.
The SS Darro hit the ship after travelling at full speed, not using her horn and with no signaling lights in conditions of reduced visibility and fog
A South African Native Labour Contingent had been travelling from Cape Town to France as support for Britain behind the frontlines when the tragedy struck. The crew included 805 black privates and 55 white officers and crew, Briely.co.za found.
At the time, black people were not permitted to volunteer as soldiers in the war only as labour, causing many black people to not volunteer for service. The South African government was afraid that training and giving arms to black people would encourage rebellion against the government on home soil, SA History wrote.
The men were said to be calm during the disaster, despite many having never before seen the ocean or learnt to ship.
It is said that a brave reverend, Isaac Williams Wauchope, delivered a final service:
"Be quiet and calm, my countrymen. What is happening now is what you came to do ... you are going to die, but that is what you came to do ... I, a Xhosa, say you are my brothers ... Swazis, Pondos, Basotho ... so let us die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa ..."
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