South Africa will today honour and remember members of the South African Native Labour Corps (SANLC) who lost their lives during the sinking of the SS Mendi a 100 years ago.
The event will be commemorated as part of Armed Forces Day in KwaZulu-Natal at the Moses Mabida Stadium. President Jacob Zuma will be one of the high profile citizens who will grace the event which will display SANDF’s fire power and equipment.
A full mechanised parade of 300 military vehicles including tanks and 4000 soldiers from SANDF will take part in a parade today.
On the fateful morning of 21 February, in the icy waters off Southampton, another ship, the SS Darro, collided with the SS Mendi which went down within 20 minutes.
About 616 South Africans of which 607 of them were black troops plus 30 crew members, mostly from Britain, died in the tragedy. About 139 of the soldiers who died – in what has been described as the one of the 20th century's worst maritime disasters in UK waters - were from the Eastern Cape.
On Monday, Minister in the Presidency responsible for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Jeff Radebe, was in the United Kingdom to pay tribute to the soldiers who perished.
He joined the Princess Royal, Princess Anne, her husband Vice-Admiral Sir Timothy Lawrence and the Chief of the South African Navy Vice-Admiral Mosiwa Hlongwane who also paid tribute to the soldiers.
Speaking at a memorial service at Southampton's Hollybrook Cemetery, Minister Radebe said that South Africans had many lessons to learn from the soldiers.
He said they temporarily suspended all their demands for equality so that the human race could be saved from itself.
“They were brave young men who had responded to a call by the African political leadership of the time to voluntarily heed the call to serve. They were sons of brave fathers who had taken part in wars of resistance.
They had been specifically recruited to learn and gain experience on how wars were fought in other parts of the world,” Minister Radebe said.