South Africa’s ‘worst’ maritime disaster – the sinking of the S.S Mendi – relived at the 2017 World Maritime Day celebrations in Pondoland

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Pretoria: 03 October 2017

The staging of this year’s World Maritime Day celebrations at the Wild Coast town of Port St Johns in the O.R Tambo District Municipality of the Eastern Cape province, by some accounts, arguably proved its worth beyond the simple recognition of the region as among South Africa’s undeserving highly underdeveloped areas, yet with direct access to 800 km of ocean space.

 

By design, the event on Wednesday (27 September), the first of two days of celebration, provided an opportunity for the AmaMpondo clan to also formally commemorate the 100th year of the sinking of the S.S Mendi – a 4000 ton British steamship that perished off the English Channel in 1917 along with just over 600 black South Africans soldiers, and dozens of whom were from the O.R Tambo District Municipality.

PrintAccording to historical record, among those who perished during the sinking of SS Mendi were AmaMpondo chiefs Hendry Bokleni, Dokoda, Richard Ndamase, Mxonywa Bangani and Mongameli, and the Reverend Isaac Wauchope Dyobha.

The O.R Tambo district municipality settled along the Eastern Cape’s coastline is named after one of South Africa’s most famous liberation struggle icons and former president of the African National Congress, the late Mr Oliver Reginald Tambo who – along with Mrs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the former wife of Nelson Mandela – was born in Mbizana and whose political contribution to the country’s liberation is also being celebrated in the country throughout 2017.

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S.S Mendi Troopship Tragedy film  creater and narrator, Mr Mzwanele ‘Zwai’ Mgijima of Port Elizabeth (Standing) addressing mostly high school pupils and their teachers about the making the film, S.S Mendi Troopship, at World Maritime Day 2017 celebration event on Wednesday, 27 September 2017, in Port St Johns that was also dedicated to the memory of the sinking of the S.S Mendi.

At last Wednesday’s World Maritime Day event staged at Port St Johns’ golf course, in a uniquely refreshing, educational and entertainingly fun way, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) through its Maritime Heritage project, brought to life the tragic sinking of the S.S Mendi a century ago this year via a docu-drama film –  Troopship Tragedy – that was presented by its creator, researcher and narrator; Mr Mzwanele ‘Zwai’ Mgijima of Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape.

The almost hour long movie’s production in 2015 was directed by Marion Edmunds.

DSC_1082 (3)For his very presence at the event, Mr Mgijima, a stage actor and storyteller who, during production of the film, traveled from the rural O. R Tambo District Municipality area to England to find the sunken S.S Mendi and bring back to South Africa the spirits of the SA Native Labour Contingent’s members who perished therein, was as much a source of amazement and delight for the approximately 500 school learners and teachers at the event as was the film presentation itself.

The World Maritime Day event, an annual celebration driven by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) was staged in Port St Johns this year through a collaborative effort involving government departments including Transport, Tourism, Basic Education, the Eastern Cape Provincial Government and SAMSA; to also observe the centenaries of the sinking of the S.S Mendi, and O.R Tambo’s birth (were he alive this year).

 

The inclusion of a maritime heritage aspect followed to last year’s very successful inauguration of the SAMSA Maritime Heritage Project during the 38th World Maritime Day celebrations held at the Xhariep Dam in the Free State, in collaboration with  the South African National Heritage Council.

Remarking during last Thursday’s event, Mr Mgijima said: “I hastened to say yes to the invitation because I was going to interact with learners from local schools when watching the film, the SS Mendi Troopship Tragedy”.

“To me”, he said, “this was knowledge dissemination in real time as the film was researched and shot in Pondoland. That, for me, was like going back to the source!

 

“What humbled me most,” said Mr Mgijima, “was the fact that a group of learners and their teachers came back with their lunch packs to watch the film: they never touched their food while watching it!”

“’I teach them about the Mendi – their forgotten history’ a voice from their teacher.

“It was all silent during the viewing of the film. A dream realized by me that the history has been told through water and land,” concluded Mr Mgijima.

*The South African Maritime Safety Authority has a copy of the movie for its archives.

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97 Eastern Cape youths due for send-off on cruise ships around the world.

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Port St Johns: 22 August 2017

A joint initiative between government, private sector companies and non-governmental organizations to not only skill but create job opportunities in the maritime economic sector will pay off for 97 Eastern Cape youths this week, when they are officially sent off to join tourism cruise vessels sailing across the world.

The 97 youths out of a total 128 that recently completed specialized training in basic marine skills under the Maritime Youth Development Programe (Eastern Cape) over the last two months, are to join MSC Cruises vessels in different parts of the globe.

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The Umzimvubi River Month adjacent to which Port St Johns is situated.

A ceremony to wish them well in their new venture into the maritime world is to be held on Wednesday in Port St Johns, an Eastern Cape town on the spectacular Wild Coast region of the Indian Ocean, midway between East London and Durban.

The joint partners in the MYDP Eastern Cape initiative include the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), the Eastern Cape Provincial Government, and Harambee.

More than half the youths due for send-off on Wednesday – some for their first jobs ever – are from the O.R Tambo District Municipality, and precisely Port St Johns; an area that is targeted this current year for a series of maritime sector related projects, primarily by SAMSA, for both maritime awareness and associated youth skills development and local community social upliftment.

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Port St Johns ‘2nd Beach’ the most popular among domestic and foreign tourists and the venue of Wednesday’s youth for cruise ships send-off event.

But perhaps crucially, the SAMSA inspired and driven MYDP’s impact in the O.R Tambo District Municipality occurs against the backdrop of a Government announcement last week that Port St Johns has been declared one of six nodes in the country to be targeted for an Operation Phakisa (Ocean Economy) marine and coastal development programme over the next five years.

 

In a statement last week, Department of Tourism Minister, Ms Tokozile Xasa said following to Cabinet approval earlier this month, the Coastal and Marine Tourism Plan would be implemented in a nodal or cluster approach that would prioritize destinations rather than individual tourism projects or products.

She said the identified nodes/clusters in the first phase of up to five (5) years) would involve five geographic areas encompassing (Node 1) Durban and surrounds and (Node 2) Umkhanyakude District including Umhlabuyalingana and surrounds – all in the KwaZulu-Natal province; (Node 3) Port St Johns to Coffee Bay and (Node 4)  East London, Port Elizabeth and surrounds – in the Eastern Cape province; (Node 5) Cape Town and surrounds  in the Western Cape province and finally, (Node 6) West Coast and surrounds in the Northern Cape province.

Meanwhile, regarding Wednesday’s event in Port St Johns, according to SAMSA on Tuesday, the successful placement of the 97 youths on cruise vessels worldwide beginning September 2017, is a major achievement as it exceeds an original target of 50 youths originally planned for the first send-off.

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Mr Sizwe Nkukwana. SAMSA Programme Manager for Operation Phakisa (Ocean Economy Initiatives (Marine Transport and Manufacturing Delivery Unit)

“We are pleased that the EC project has been a resounding success. We completed the entire preparation process at the end of last week with MSC interviewing the final 128 candidates that successfully completed the training program.

“MSC Cruises has agreed to place 97 candidates in this year’s intake that starts from 1 September. This number far exceeds he initially agreed target of 50, which was our SLA with the client, Office of the Premier of the Eastern Cape. This means we exceeded our target by 80% or we had an 180% achievement,” said SAMSA Programme Manager for Operation Phakisa initiatives (Marine Transport and Manufacturing Delivery Unit), Mr Sizwe Nkukwana.

Mr Nkukwana along with some senior SAMSA management headed by Chief Operating Officer (COO), Mr Sobantu Tilayi will join Eastern Cape Premier, Hon. Phumulo Masaulle – MPL, Eastern Cape provincial government officials, local traditional leadership, officials of the O.R Tambo District Municipality at the send-off ceremony tomorrow, which will characterized by a colourful display of AmaMpondo cultural activities including dance.

‘’The time to work with young people, to alter positively their future prospects and fortunes is now. As an entry point it is good that these young people are getting this kind of exposure and opportunity, to actually work on cruise liners to gain that international outlook and experience.

“It is also important that we do not position to only take up the lower layers level jobs in the sector, but we must move to empower these young people to go on to captain these ships, to be the engineers and ports officials and so, in essence, we must strive to penetrate all sectors including scarce skills in the maritime space’’, says Premier Masualle.

The event to be held at Port St Johns 2nd Beach – notorious for some spectacular shark attacks these last few years – will be beamed live on SABC radio and television (MorningLive as well as on Umhlobo Wenene, Trufm and local radio stations).

The ceremony in three stages; a media session, a maritime exhibition and formal send-off, begins at 7am in the morning through to 2pm in the afternoon.

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