This article is part of a retrospective of the Sinking of the SS Mendi in the English Channel starting today and culminating on the tragedy's centenary on Tuesday, February 21.
The Order of Mendi for Bravery was established on November 30, 2003, as the premium award for bravery in South Africa.
Although it is primarily a civilian award, there have been several awards to military personnel, particularly the retrospective award to Navy divers involved in the rescue of passengers of the SS Oceanos which sank off the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape on August 4, 1994, as well as the South African Airforce crews rescuing Mozambicans from certain death during the 2000 floods.
The central motif of the design of this Order is the oval shape of a traditional African shield, usually made from animal hide woven into a rigid and durable armour and used for protection in close combat.
The band, which renders the shape of the shield, is punctuated with the spoor of the lion, representing vigilance, power and bravery, and symbolising South Africa’s efforts at protecting its borders and the country. The band is criss-crossed with the tips and bases of a knobkierrie and a spear, traditional symbols of defence and honour.
The central image within the shield is an image of the SS Mendi sailing on the waters of the English Channel.
The depiction of the blue crane in flight above the SS Mendi symbolises the departing souls of the drowned soldiers.
The feathers of the blue crane were traditionally conferred to adorn brave warriors during the time of colonial wars.
The central image is sealed above by a green emerald which is surrounded on three sides by renditions of the bitter aloe, a hardy indigenous South African plant used in traditional medicine.
The three bitter aloes represent resilience and survival and also serve as symbolic directional pointers, showing the way when rendering assistance to those in need during natural disasters.
The Order of Mendi Decoration for Bravery award comprises three elements:
l a neck badge (a gold, silver or bronze medallion on a neck band);
l a miniature (a miniature gold, silver or bronze medallion for wearing as a brooch or on the breast pocket); and,
l a lapel rosette (also in gold, silver or bronze).
Awards of the Order of Mendi Decoration for Bravery are made to South Africans who have performed acts of bravery, which may have occurred anywhere in the world.
This order is awarded in gold for exceptional acts of bravery in which awardees would have placed their lives in great danger or may have lost their lives in their efforts to save lives or property, in silver, for extraordinary acts of bravery through which recipients’ lives were placed in great danger while saving or trying to rescue persons or property, and in bronze for outstanding acts of bravery through which their lives were endangered while saving or trying to rescue persons or property.
Recipients are entitled to put the following letters behind their names: Recipients of this award are entitled to indicate that they have been invested with the relevant category of the Order by the use of the following post-nominal letters: OMBG for recipients of the Order of Mendi for Bravery (gold). OMBS for recipients of the Order of Mendi for Bravery (silver). OMBB for recipients of the Order of Mendi for Bravery (bronze).
There are a number of monuments, living and physical, to the men of the Mendi today:
* SAS Isaac Dyobha, a South African Warrior class strike boat, formerly the SAS Frans Erasmus.
* SAS Mendi, a South African navy, Valour Class frigate
* The Order of Mendi, a bravery award honouring acts of incredible courage by South Africans.
* The Mendi memorial on the lower UCT (Mowbray) campus of the University of Cape Town.
* The Mendi memorial at the Gamothaga Resort in Atteridgeville, Pretoria.
* The Mendi memorial at Avalon cemetery, Soweto, Johannesburg
* The Mendi memorial, in New Brighton, Post Elizabeth.
* A plaque with the names of all the South African dead has been added to the memorial at Delville Wood in France.
* The Hollybrook memorial in Southampton, England, bearing the names of the Mendi men who had no known graves.
* The actual site which was designated as a protected war grave.
* The war memorial at the Batswana parliament in Gaberone.
* A commemorative white lifebelt next to the statue of Just Nuisance in Simonstown, Cape Town.
* A painted triptych, The Loss of the Mendi, at the Nelson Mandela Meteropolitan Art Museum, Port Elizabeth.
* The war memorial in Maseru, Lesotho.
* The war memorial in Mthatha, Eastern Cape.
* The Mendi Road in Port Elizabeth
* The women of Polokwane, Limpopo, planted trees with name plates of the men from the area who never came back.