African Studies / History / World War I
This is the story of the sinking of the SS Mendi during WW1, the bravery of the men on board and the ensuing inquiry conducted by the Board of Trade in London. The story follows the small band of survivors to France where they complete their tour of duty.
The First World War rages in Europe, it is a white man’s war, but when the British government calls for 10 000 black soldiers to be sent to France as a labour force, men from around South Africa volunteer for service. In the foothills of the Drakensberg, Kula Hlongwane, an amaNgwane prince steps forward, followed by a group of his tribesmen. Madondo is ordered to accompany them. For him it is a nightmare from which there is no escape.
When crossing the English Channel on the troopship, the SS Mendi, lights loom out of the thick black fog, then a siren blasts. With no time to avoid the collision, the Mendi is struck a devastating blow on the starboard side where Kula and his men lie sleeping. Within minutes, the Mendi begins to sink.
The book makes use of various historical documents and the transcripts from the inquiry held in London by the Board of Trade to establish causality for the large loss of life. On conclusion of the inquiry, these transcripts were declared ‘secret’ and concealed from view for the next 50 years. Men of the Mendi gives an in depth account of the inquiry and the apparent reason for the cover-up.
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