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SS Mendi Memorial
Rondebosch, Cape Town, Western Cape

Madi PHALA: Artist Sculptor



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33°57'15.83" S 18°28'08.51" E Alt: 29m

See also the SS Mendi Memorial in Soweto.
Mendi Memorial in Atteridgeville
Mendi Memorial in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth

Transcript from plaque:

Sunday Times
Around 1852 - 1917

Early on the morning of February 21, 1917, a month after leaving Cape Town
harbour, the troopship SS Mendi was rammed in thick fog in the English Channel.
She sank in 20 minutes. On board, the Reverend Isaac Wauchope rallied the servicemen,
the last contingent of the South African Native Labour Corps, to support the war effort
in Europe: "You are going to die, but that is what you came here to do... Let us die like warriors,
the sons of Africa." Wauchope was among the dead that morning. Of the 895 on board,
647 lost their lives, among them 607 black troops. Prior to embarkation, the Corps was
encamped here, on land that now forms part of the University of Cape Town's Kopano
Residence soccer fields.


"Another memorial to the Mendi was unveiled in Cape Town. A sculpture, by local artist Madi Phala, represents a mock ship's prow cast in heavy metal, sinking into the ground. In front of it are helmets, hats and discs, symbolising the men, officers and crew of the SS Mendi. A plaque simply reads "SS Mendi, S. African troopship, sank next to the Isle of Wight 1917 02 21".

Located on an embankment on the Mowbray campus of the University of Cape Town, the site has significance to the Mendi, as it here, at the former Rosebank Camp, that troops of the South African Native Labour Contingent were billeted before embarking on the ill-fated SS Mendi for France.

A government notice issued on December 30 by the South African Heritage Resources Agency declared the Mendi Memorial on the University of Cape Town (UCT) sports fields in Rosebank, Cape Town, as a national heritage site. "The Mendi Memorial, located at the southeast corner of the University of Cape Town's soccer fields, is a symbolic reminder of the South African lives lost on the steamship Mendi in 1917 and of the long-ignored and forgotten history of the South African Native Labour Corps," said the notice issued by the Department of Arts and Culture. "It is a reminder of the role played by black South Africans in World War I and of the links these events have to the liberation struggle in South Africa. The University of Cape Town soccer fields were formerly the Rosebank Showgrounds which were used during World War I as the national assembly camp and depot for the South African Native Labour Corps. It was at this camp that all the men enlisted in the corps from all over South Africa and Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho assembled, were kitted out and received their basic training, and from which they departed to Cape Town harbour to take ship to France. For many of the men on the Mendi, this was where they spent their last night on South African soil."

Sadly, the artist Madi Phala who created the original piece was murdered outside his home in Langa, Cape Town, in March 2007."

(Derek Walker - Submitted by William Martinson)