The accidental sinking of the troopship SS Mendi on a foggy morning in 1917 is long forgotten, but it’s a moving tale of heartbreak, bravery and loss that deserves remembering.
Playwright Lara Foot has taken the few facts that are known about this old maritime disaster and woven a story around it, drawing from poetry, oral legend and historical records to deliver a tragedy made personal.
The result is Ukutshona ko Mendi … Did We Dance, an African-flavour piece of theatre blending vibrant storytelling with dance, wonderful singing and rich symbolism.
More than 600 men died on the Mendi, a troopship carrying the 5th Battalion South African Native Labor Corps who had enlisted to support the British army in the First World War.
Ukutshona ko Mendi starts with the grieving widow Noria (Warona Seane) trying to contact her lost husband through a spiritual mediator (Lulamile Nikani).
Then through flashbacks we see the men enlisting for the army and the tragedy at sea when another ship ploughs into the Mendi but fails to stop and rescue the survivors.
It’s a powerful piece of drama, with the bare facts stretched out and dramatised to give us a handful of men …