Stanley - Thursday
Today is Armed Forces Day in South Africa - chosen because it is the date of one of the country's worst military disasters - the sinking of the SS Mendi in 1917.
What is confusing is how the tragedy has been regarded over the years. It's enough to give one a headache. And heartache. And it almost totally due to the oral history tradition of the blacks in South Africa that we remember it at all.
Fighting a war is a very complex enterprise requiring not only soldiers, but also non-combatant personnel to support them. In 1916, the British government asked South Africa to send 10,000 men from the South African Native Labour Contingent to Europe to help the war effort. South Africa complied, and large numbers of black South Africans (about 21,000) headed for Europe, expressly barred from doing any fighting because of fears that they may return and confront the white government. Most who went were volunteers who hoped that they would be rewarded for their service on their return.
The South African Native Labour Contingent's last parade before heading to Europe
Just before embarking
On the evening of February 20, 1917, the SS Mendi set sail from Plymouth headed for La Havre, France, with 805 black privates, 5 white officers, 17 non-commissioned officers, and 33 crew. On the morning of the next day, another ship, the SS Darro, sailing at high speed in unfavourable conditions, rammed into the SS Mendi, causing it to sink in less than half an hour.
The SS Mendi
Due to the rapid listing of the SS Mendi, some lifeboats were unusable, others were not launched because the men were unable to untie the knots on the ropes holding them. Apparently, the men had not been told that the ropes were designed to be cut, not untied. And those that were launched soon filled up, a few overturning due to overloading.
The SS Darro did nothing to help rescue the men of the SS Mendi. However, lifeboats from the SS Mendi's escort, the destroyer HMS Brisk, did all it could to rescue survivors. In the end, 649 men perished. In an enquiry into the tragedy, the captain of the SS Darro, a Captain Stump, was found negligent and had his license suspended for a year.
In a rare, possibly unique, gesture, all members of the white South African House of Assembly stood in respect for the dead.
The courage shown by those on the SS Mendi has become a legend in South Africa. Certainly, there are verified accounts of amazing discipline and bravery, with men helping each other without respect to colour. As you would expect, there are also stories that have been elaborated and exaggerated, the best known of which is of a black paster, Isaac Dyobha, who called out to the men too afraid to jump overboard:
Be quiet and calm, my countrymen, for what is taking place now is exactly what you came to do. You are going to die, but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we are drilling the drill of death. I, a Xhosa, say you are all my brothers. Zulus, Swazis, Pondos, Basutos, we die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our assegais at our kraals, our voices are left with our bodies.
Assegai - spear
Kraal - village
It is also said that the men danced on the deck in their bare feet, stamping in unison. However, this is highly unlikely, given the listing of the ship.
Many of the dead are buried in the countries where their bodies were washed ashore. There are memorials in a number of places in Europe and South Africa, but official recognition was only given in 2017, a hundred years after the tragedy, with the installation of a plaque at the South African National Memorial at Delville Wood.
The plaque at Delville Wood
The survivors of the disaster were treated very badly on their return to South Africa. Their contribution was barely acknowledged and promises that had been made before heading to Europe were not kept. No members of the South African Native Labour Contingent received a ribbon or medal for their service, nor did they receive promised pensions or grants of land or cattle or a reprieve from the hated hut tax.
However, some did have something to take home with them - the thanks of the king. As one veteran later wrote
We met King George and Queen Mary. The King addressed us personally and thanked us for the services we rendered. He told us that we were going home within a few days, and when we reached home we must tell our Chiefs and fathers how he had thanked us.
King George thanking members of the South African Native Labour Contingent
Another veteran, A K Xabanisa, later wrote:
I am just like a stone which after killing a bird, nobody bothers about, nobody cares to see where it falls.
The UK at last gives something back - the bell from the SS Mendi
During the years of white rule in South Africa, particularly under the apartheid government, the story of the SS Mendi was downplayed. I was well into my adult years when I first heard about it.
On the other hand, for the most part, the incident has been a rallying cry for blacks - something to be proud of. But even among blacks, it has waxed and waned in importance. I read just last week, that a government agency refused to provide some financial support for a memorial service scheduled to take place today because the men on the SS Mendi were supporting a colonial cause.
It makes my head spin.
South Africa's highest award for courage is now called the Order of the Mendi Decoration for Courage. And the South African navy honours those who died by having a Warrior class fast-attack craft named the SAS Isaac Dyobha, and a Valour class frigate named the SAS Mendi.
As I am writing this, I can hear South African Airforce jets flying low over Table Bay and heavy guns firing from Bloubergstrand across from Robben Island in remembrance of all of the country's war dead, no matter their colour.
May they rest in peace.
Leye - Every other Wednesday
Photo by mush m.
It’s morning rush hour. You’re
walking along the pavement, you and a hundred other mildly depressed workers -
constantly readjusting your pace to thwart the devilish intentions of the slow-walkers,
the hand-holders, the start and stoppers, and the walk-while-reading-on-phone-ers.
You’ve just managed to side step that most privileged of all sidewalk users,
the parent with kids spread out from both arms, then all of a sudden, puff, your
entire head is engulfed in a dense cloud of sickeningly sweet nicotine laced vapour,
instantly ruining strawberry for you for the rest of your life. You have been vaped. Against your will and without your consent. Why is this not a crime?
I used to be a smoker, real cigarettes,
so I get it. They are addicted. They are victims. It is medication. But what I
don’t get is the total lack of awareness or regard or both that vapers
exhibit in public. They should not have the right to breathe out the humongous
clouds of chemicals they inflict upon innocent members of the public. It is an assault.
It is an act of violence. And if I have managed to stay nicotine free for so
long (4 years, 11 months, and 11 days – I checked. I have an app), what right
have you to force feed me yours? Especially when it has been circulated through
your lungs and the bits of you that live in there. This should be illegal, but
I guess we’ll have to wait till the first lawsuits for that to happen. “The court
finds Mr Varpour guilty of causing Miss Iwaz Klin’s nicotine addiction through
reckless vaping while in public.”
If you are resident in Hong Kong you need not wait till successful litigation to enjoy vape free walks
in your public places. Hong Kong has just announced plans to ban all e-cigarettes
and jail all vaping offenders. Can I get an amen? That’s six months in jail or a
fine of $6,370 for anyone who imports, makes, sells or promotes new smoking
products. Anti-social vaping? Whack! six months hard labour! I just love the people of Hong Kong. (This morning I realised I do
not know what Hong Kongians are called. Hong Kongers? Hong Kongese? Just Cantonese?)
But, wont that lead to an
increase in smoking? If I use one of my three wishes to get the UK government
to follow the example of Hong Kong and ban vaping, wont former vapers just turn
to that much more hardcore means of nicotine delivery, regular cigarettes?
this is where I stand on this: I think turkey sausages are evil. I think diet
coke is all shades of wrong. I think non-alcoholic wine is the work of Satan. I
think vegan burgers, and vegan bacon, and vegan any other not-normally-vegan
food are just manifestations of pure evil.
So, for me, if you must have sugar, have sugar, not some chemically synthesised tastes-like-sugar. If you want
bacon, eat bacon from a pig, not something called sietan. And if you must smoke
tobacco, smoke proper cigarettes. Light a match. Enjoy the orange glow of the tobacco
each time you take a drag. Inhale that smoke of 7,000 chemicals. Feel that
instant hit, that sensation that all smokers know too well (and all ex-smokers
miss tous les jours ). And should you ever blow your smoke in my face, at least I
will get a hit of nicotine the way I was accustomed to, and not from the vapour
cloud of some inconsiderate vaper who lacks the real-cigarette-smoker’s etiquette
of at least attempting to blow their smoke away from other people’s faces.
Annamaria on Monday
I have a HUGE beef to air!
First of all "huge" is not a word that has ever applied to me. I am not the skinny sylph I used to be, but I am short! When we gather to take a group photo, my blogmates hum choruses of "We'd like to welcome you to Munchkinland."
Here is the sort of plane that took me and my friend Nicoletta around Kenya and Tanzania over the past month.
The night before we took off in this little number, when all the bags were packed and I was already in my jammies, my travel agent sent me the vouchers for our flight the next day from Nairobi to the Masai Mara. I gave them a cursory glance and went nighty-night. The next morning in the car on our way to the airport, I discovered that the fine print on the ticket included a baggage weight limit of 15 kilos. My two small bags I later learned weighed just over 24.
I figure the weight limit has something to do with the amount of fuel the plane needs to cart around a big bunch of avoirdupois.
The guy at the checkin counter suggested that I leave one of my bags behind, at the airline company's storage. But. The flight was leaving in twenty minutes and my underwear was in one and my shoes in the other. And for reasons I am sure you can understand, I did not want to sort through my undies in the airport waiting room.
I asked what the charge would be for the extra weight. Sixty-four dollars was the answer.
Flabbergasted as I was, the basic unfairness of this rule inspired my argument. "How much do you weigh?" I asked the hefty guy behind the counter. His answer: 102 kilos. "If you bought a ticket on this flight," I asked, "would yours cost the same as mine?"
This is not the man at the airport, but my dear friend,wonderful writer and publisher--Shel Arensen. I includethe photo to show the difference between me and anotherpotential passenger who would also be allowed15 K of luggage.
"Yes, certainly, I wold pay the same," the big guy said.
So I argued that fully-clothed, shoes and all, I weigh just under 70 K. Therefore, my "overweight" baggage and I - put together - weighed less than he, all by himself. Therefore, I should be able to take my bags without an extra charge.
It didn't work. Not really. In the end they gave me a reduction in the cost, but I still had to fork over fifty bucks for the privilege of taking my belongings with me.
Nicoletta kindly took this picture after the return flight.The man to my left paid less to fly than I did for me andmy luggage. AARRGGHHH!!!
Now I ask you, is this right? Is this fair?
PS: I also think that people 5"2' should get the front seats in the theatre.