The Padavattan Six who helped rescue 176 people when the Umgeni River bank burst in 1917.
Durban activists and the fishing community are on a campaign trail to have the Order of Mendi for Bravery bestowed on the Padavattan Six and have about 300 signatures supporting their request.

Viroshen Chetty, spokesman for the group and the author of the book, Legends of the Tide, said eThekwini deputy mayor Fawzia Peer had thrown her weight behind the campaign.

One hundred and seventy six were rescued by the Padavattan Six when the Umgeni River burst its banks in 1917.

“The rescue was mounted a hundred years ago this year when Umgeni River rose in floods, claiming 400 lives. When the commander of the Durban Water Police declared any rescue as ‘too dangerous’, the fishermen got into the raging river with their banana boat and ropes to rescue 176 people,” Chetty said.

He said the Padavattan rescue coincided with the centenary of the World War I sinking of the SS Mendi, which claimed the lives of more than 600 black South African soldiers.

“This is a story about the bravery of the soldiers and the fishermen, and it will inform the younger generation about the long road South Africa has travelled in building the nation,” he said.

He said the Durban community, regardless of race, needed to celebrate its heroes, and that it was important that “more than 22 years into our democracy, we reclaim our heritage”.

The six were Gangan Padavattan, his brother Mariemuthoo; Kuppusamy and Rungasamy Naidoo, Sabapathy Govender and T Veloo.

Kiru Naidoo, a group member responsible for the signatures, said: “This is an appeal for President Zuma to consider our late request to honour these heroes.

“Applications for 2017 are closed, but we decided on this humble appeal. We have about 300 signatures and we aim to gather a hundred more before we can send it to the Presidency.”

Dr Neelan Govender, Sabapathy Govender’s son and co-author of the Legends of the Tide, said he supported the call for the president to honour the six, but was not rooting for the idea of naming the new interchange over Umgeni River after them.

The Umgeni idea was brought about by Saber Ahmed Jazbhay, a local attorney who, in a letter to the Daily News, argued it was fitting to name the interchange after them.

He said he had gone on social media, for followers to support the call.

However, Govender said the Order of Mendi for Bravery was befitting.

“I commend the attorney for the thought, but we have many other untold stories. Our history has been distorted for a long time.

“If we are for nation-building, why are we not hearing about Ndongeni, the servant who led Dick King’s escape from the Voortrekkers from Durban to Grahamstown?

“When the white men wrote about that portion of history they said very little about Ndongeni, but a lot about King.

“There are more historic and heroic deeds that need to be taken into consideration.

“The interchange could be named Dr John Langalibalele Dube Interchange,” Govender said.

He said the six fishermen were each awarded 22-carat gold medals by the Royal Humane Society in December 1917 and a wooden staff.

“The onus is on us, the KZN community, to start asking who our heroes are, recapture all those historic and heroic events and stories about our people and help our new generation to understand where they are coming from,” he said.

Peer said the Padavattan Six was one of the historic events that should have been reported about a long time ago.

“Even a road named after them should be considered.

“I will push for their recognition. This is a heroic and historic Durban story and it is time to honour them in this 23rd year of democracy,” she said.

Daily News