Leader of the Black First Land First (BLF) Andile Mngxitama says the 616 black soldiers who died in the SS Mendi troopship should not be celebrated as heroes.
The SS Mendi was a British ship that sank in the English Channel on February 21 1917, claiming 616 lives the South African black men and 30 British crew, who were to be labourers during World War 1 in aid of the Great Britain.
Mngxitama said the men were prepared to die for British colonialists of the time, “but not willing to form an army to free the black nation”. The BLF leader said “our heroes and heroines are those who perished fighting for our liberation”.
“I don’t think we should be celebrating the black soldiers who perished in the SS Mendi as heroes. These were men ready to die for the British crown but not willing to form an army to free the black nation.
“Guided by the BLF creed of peace amongst blacks, I refuse to condemn them. These men hoped to get better rights for themself (sic) after serving imperialism. They didn’t want freedom for all.
“Today we must ask the British and other whites they died for, when are you paying reparations? The big lesson here is that London never ever serve blacks, even those who die for it.”
But Advocate Sonwabile Mancotywa of the National Heritage Council said the SS Mendi heritage taught us about the commitment of the men who died on the ship. Speaking on SABC 2 Morning Live on Tuesday, he said the soldiers “wanted to register the black majority’s plight of oppression in their own country”.
“They had hoped that the world will recognise the South African cry for liberation especially after the Land Act of 1913. They had displayed courage and sand whilst drowning – an act of true heroism,” he added.
Chief director for SA Army force structure Major-General Bongani Mbatha said: “The courage displayed by these men has remained a legend in South African military history.”