World Bulletin / News Desk
Over 800 South African troops were being transported on the SS Mendi ship chartered by the British government, when it was hit accidentally by a larger steamship. In total, 616 South African troops, the vast majority of them black, were killed in the accident.
“Black people had volunteered to join the First World War in order to fight against fascism. They were internationalists who loved peace and justice,” President Jacob Zuma said in a televised address at the ceremony held in the coastal city of Durban.
He said black South Africans joined the war believing that their contribution would lead to better treatment back home.
“Unfortunately their sacrifice did not earn them any respect from the rulers of the time. That is the painful history we come from, a history of brutal and blatant racism and colonialism,’’ Zuma said at the event attended by some of the men’s family members.
He said it was unfortunate that black soldiers were not allowed to carry weapons and were only utilized as laborers rather than fighting soldiers.
“Today, we restore the dignity and humanity of the black soldiers who perished on that fateful day. We salute their courage, bravery and commitment,’’ he said.
The commemoration event coincides with Armed Forces Day in South Africa, which was celebrated simultaneously.
The South Africa navy, army and air force held colorful parades to commemorate the fallen heroes.