Mendi  tragedy recalled, 100 years on

Memorial educare centre still serves underprivileged children

February 2017: LEST WE FORGET: Mendi Educare Centre manager Yolisa Nocezo, left, with Daphney Twalo, Nombulelo Tshirana, Thembeka Maxin and Nomalady Tom at the centre Picture: SIVENATHI GOSA

“BE quiet and calm, my countrymen. What is happening now is what you came to do … you are going to die, but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we are drilling the death drill. I, a Xhosa, say you are my brothers … Swazis, Pondos, Basotho … so let us die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our assegais in the kraal, our voices are left with our bodies.”

These were the final words of the late Reverend Isaac Williams Wauchope while addressing men on board the SS  Mendi  as it went down. Tuesday marked 100 years since the sinking of the SS  Mendi  in the English Channel, killing South Africans en route to serve in World War 1.

In 1976, the first building of the  Mendi  Educare Centre in Komani – which served as a memorial – was gutted due to political riots but a few years later the local municipality established another building for the centre.

The late Nombhezi Mzazi, Nopasika Mtobo and Monelwa Mdingi were the founding members of the Educare Centre. The women were involved in two community associations, the Young Women’s Christian Association and Zenzele, where they sewed clothes and grew vegetables for the community.

“The reason for the founders to name this centre after the SS  Mendi  was because their grandfathers and fathers were among the men who were on board so they decided to honour them,” current practitioner at the centre Nomalady Tom said.

The poem Ukutshona kukaMendi by SEK Mqhayi, focuses on the events of February 21 1917.

“We’ve made sure that we teach the pupils the poem and they recite it on a regular basis,” centre manager Yolisa Nocezo said.

Nombulelo Tshirana has been a teacher at  Mendi  Educare Centre since 1983.

“The building has not changed, it is still the same as it was before. Pupils from this school are from poor backgrounds, where the families live on the child’s support grant. We do try and raise funds to revamp the school and change broken facilities. The department of social development does supply us with food for the pupils, but we would like more financial assistance from other stakeholders and the people of Komani.”

Anyone able to assist can contact Nomalady Tom on 073-311-1043 or Yolisa Nocezo on 083-426-7140.

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