SS Mendi Memorial upgrade completed

5 Apr 2017 - 07:45

A memorial at UCT that honours the often forgotten role of black South Africans in World War I has been upgraded.

Mendi MemorialNight and day: The upgraded memorial shot at night and day. At night strip lighting, set flush into the floor, washes light upon the plaques, with the sculpture's sinking ship prow poignantly silhouetted.

The comprehensive enhancement of the SS Mendi Memorial was a project by Properties & Services Projects and Capital Works division, under its Director Chris Briers.

It is dedicated to the over 600 SA Native Labour Corps who lost their lives when their ship, the SS Mendi, was accidentally rammed by another ship near the Isle of Wight in the early morning of February 21, 1917. Some men were killed outright; most drowned after the ship sank.

Kevin Ashton, Chairman of the Gunners Association Western Province and Vice Chairman of the Cape Garrison Artillery Regimental Association, described the memorial as "a fitting memory of our fallen black brothers in arms".

The site of the memorial at UCT, on the corner of Cecil and Show roads, is near the old Rosebank Showgrounds, where the troops were billeted before embarking on the SS Mendi for service in France.

Trevor & Jacqui Thorold, the Heritage Architects who were contracted to design the memorial upgrade, were bound to keep the original memorial sculpture by slain SA artist, Madi Phala. It was installed as one of the public art projects of the Sunday Times to mark their centenary some years ago. Cast in heavy metal, it depicts a sinking ship's prow.

Plaques of engraved and hand-carved slate with the Roll of Honour of all the deceased are built into the back wall, on either side of a central panel that gives a brief description of the tragedy and the significance of the site.

A re-dedication of the site is planned for later this year.