Paris - Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa will on Sunday correct a century-old injustice by reburying a black South African soldier killed in World War I alongside his white comrades killed in the devastating battle of Delville Wood.
Private Myengwa Beleza, a member of the African Native Labour Corps, was one of the first South Africans to be killed in the Great War as it was known before another even greater war broke out 21 years later.
But because of the segregation policies of the time Beleza was not buried in a military cemetery.
According to Ramaphosa’s spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa, all black South African soldiers killed in the war were buried in various civilian cemeteries across France.
So on Sunday Ramaphosa will preside over the ceremony in which Beleza’s mortal remains will be exhumed and reburied at the Delville Wood Memorial to indiscriminately honour all South Africans, black and white, who paid with their lives during World War I.
Mamoepa said Ramaphosa also participated in the 98th anniversary of the battle of Delville Wood in which only 750 soldiers of the original 3 100 men of the South African brigade survived unscathed.
As military historian and foreign policy expert Greg Mills points out, the South African battalion under Lieutenant-Colonel William Tanner were part of the 9th Scottish Division which was ordered to capture the village of Longueval and its nearby wood.
The South African brigade was ordered to take Delville Wood the next day. The three South African battalions in the brigade, “advanced on a wet and misty morning. Under constant, intense enemy shelling and sniper fire, with little cover, food, water and no communications, and with their commander wounded and replaced, the South Africans were finally relieved five days later.
“The forest they had entered was no longer standing; and of their original number of 3 100 men, they could barely muster 750.”
After the war the South African government bought the wood to preserve it as a monument to the heroics of the South African brigade.
Mamoepa said Ramaphosa had also laid a wreath at the memorial near Delville Wood to the many French soldiers killed there.