SS Mendi commemoration cancelled at last minute

2017-02-25 19:31
Athol Trollip.

Athol Trollip.

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Commemoration for SS Mendi troops held in Johannesburg

2017-02-21 17:12

Johannesburg citizens gather outside Johannesburg Library Gardens to lay wreaths in front of the Cenotaph in memory the 602 SS Mendi troops who died on their way to England during World War 1WATCH

Port Elizabeth – A function meant to commemorate the SS Mendi was cancelled as the military band, journalists and some family members were already at the venue on Friday.

Nelson Mandela Bay Mayor Athol Trollip criticised what he called petty political interference that led to the cancellation of the event, which the city had spent R120 000 on.

On Friday morning Major General Luvuyo Nobanda informed the local SA National Defence Force, Navy and the metro that the event was being cancelled, Trollip said.

“The decision was so patently a last-minute political decision. Many of these family members had travelled many hundreds of kilometres to be there, only to be told to return home.”

It was “beyond comprehension” that the SANDF, Department of Military Veterans (DMV), the Eastern Cape Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture, and ANC structures would abandon recognition of the SS Mendi crew, whose mission was to dispel evil and fight for racial equality in South Africa, he said.

A number of events had been arranged to remember the drowned heroes and their remaining families.

These included the exhibition of sketches and paintings by Hillary Graham at the Nelson Mandela Bay Art Museum, and a dinner hosted in conjunction with the Mandela Bay Development Agency on Thursday night.

Among those in attendance were Chief Mlamli Ndamase of the AmaMpondo, whose people made up the majority of those who lost their lives. The grandchildren of one of the victims, Lusanda Ndamase, and Vuyolwethu Ndamase, who represented the Ndamase royal family, were also there.

The main commemoration event was meant to be held at the Mendi Memorial in New Brighton on Friday.

‘Political manipulation’

Trollip said the city had been invited to participate in the preparations and help pay for the costs. It however became clear around three weeks ago that there was political opposition to the new government’s involvement in the event.

Three local ANC ward councillors rejected the proposed presence of anyone from the metro’s executive at the main event.

Trollip said arts and culture MEC Pemmy Majodina then came to see him and asked that the event be postponed on the “questionable strength of an unauthorised and unknown letter”.

She had received a letter from the Mendi Memorial Academy, in which it apparently complained that the families of the soldiers who died at sea had not all been informed about the event and would thus not be able to attend.

Trollip said he had contacted the SANDF and DMV and had been informed that they were going ahead with the event, having already incurred expenses. He informed Majodina that the municipality would honour the commemoration of the SS Mendi.

“Then the political manipulation changed gear.”

He said Beza Ntshona, of the ANC regional task team, phoned his office to ascertain if the event was going ahead and was told that it was. Subsequently, Nobanda made his decision.

“It is such a tragedy that petty politics has been allowed to trump such an important occasion which would have seen us pay respects to those brave men who lost their lives all those years ago.

“While this event was not arranged by the Metro, we are nonetheless ashamed that our provincial and national government colleagues disrespected our Mendi heroes and the AmaMpondo and Ndamase royal house delegation in this most disgraceful way,” Trollip said.

Trollip said the municipality would be inviting the royal family delegation and all family members of the Mendi heroes, to join him for a moment of reflection at a location yet to be announced.

Cancellation due to logistics, not political

Department of Military Veterans spokesperson, Mbulelo Musi, however refuted Trollip’s claims of political interference, saying the cancellation had been due to logistical reasons.

“It is extremely unfortunate that it is being said that the event was cancelled due to political reasons,” Musi said.

Musi said they had informed the municipality that the SANDF troops could not attend the event, due to logistical reasons as the troops were still busy withdrawing from being deployed to Durban for the main SS Mendi commemorations which had taken place earlier in the week.

Musi said it was a case of being overly optimistic and underestimating the logistics required around the main event in Durban that had led to the lack of troops at the New Brighton event.

“I want to make it clear that no disrespect was intended to any of the families of those heroes who fell with the SS Mendi. Our solidarity is unquestionable,” he said.

Musi said he could not understand why the municipality had not informed the families of the logistical reasons that had led to the cancellation.

Read more on:    athol trollip  |  port elizabeth  |  ss mendi

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