The Centre for African Studies (CAS), UCT, pays tribute to the people of the Mendi
The black South African troops who drowned in the English channel when the SS Mendi tragically sank in 1917 have been commemorated in oral and written poetry, but it has taken one hundred years for their sacrifice to be fully acknowledged. In 2017, the year of the centenary of the sinking of the Mendi, their descendants will attend a special ceremony at sea to remember them. The Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town is proud to contribute to the Mendi centenary commemoration by hosting an exhibition and a multidisciplinary conference on the theme of the Mendi, in order to recognise the role the people of the Mendi played in a broader struggle for land, human rights and dignity.
The exhibition, Abantu beMendi, which will open at 2pm on the 26th February 2017 at the Gallery of the Centre for African Studies, will feature commissioned artworks on the Mendi and the South African Native Labour Contingent by artist Buhlebezwe Siwani (MA, UCT); artworks by Mandla Mbothwe and Eastern Cape artist Hilary Graham; poetry, including the poem “Ukutshona kukaMendi” by S.E.K. Mqhayi; and rare photographs and documents, including the tonic-sol-fa “Ama-gora e-Mendi” by A.M. Jonas. The exhibition will also include footage of the ceremony at sea for the descendants of the Mendi, at the site of the Mendi wreck, on 21 February 2017.
The multidisciplinary conference, “Ukutshona kukaMendi”/ “Ukuzika kukaMendi” will take place from 28th to 30th March 2017 at the Centre for African Studies. Presenters at the conference include local and international scholars, poets, film-makers, artists and performance artists. Fred Khumalo’s new novel about the Mendi, Dancing the Death Drill (Umuzi, 2017), will be launched on the evening of Wednesday 29th March as part of the conference programme.
The University of Cape Town has an important place in the story of the Mendi, as part of what is now the lower campus, the former Rosebank showgrounds, was the tented barracks where the men of the South African Native Labour Contingent were billeted before being shipped to the Western Front. A memorial to those who lost their lives on the Mendi, designed by South African artist Madi Phala in 2006, was rededicated on UCT’s lower campus in 2014. This site was where the men of the Mendi spent their last night on South African soil.
For further information about these events, please contact The Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town.