Sek Mqhayi is the pen name of Samuel Edward Krune Mqhayi, a South African teacher, linguist, journalist and author, who died in 1945 at the age of 70.
Former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki both regarded him as an early South African poet laureate, the imbongi yesizwe. He is known for many literary accomplishments, including adding seven extra stanzas to Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika, but also wrote movingly on both the spirit of the SA Native Labour Corps going to France and then the definitive poem of the sinking of the SS Mendi.
Poet and journalist Antjie Krog, who translated Ukutshona kuka Mendi into Afrikaans and English says the poems link into the prevailing African sentiment of the time.
“It is the sentiment that sustained Sol Plaatje – the black people on the Mendi are described in a way which place them as a complete part of those who were fighting for the good of mankind.
“They wanted to be counted among those who fought against those who were destroying mankind. it breaks one’s heart how that belief was thwarted...”
Ukutshona kukaMendi by SEK Mqhayi
Ewe le nto kakade yinto yaloo nto
Thina nto zaziyo asothukanga nto
Sibona kamhlophe sithi mekumelwe
Sitheth’ engqindweni sithi kufanelwe
Xa bekunge njalo bekungayi kulunga
Ngoko ke Sotashe kwaqala ukulunga.
Le nqanaw’ uMendi namhla yandisile
Nal’ igazi lethu lisikhonzisile
Asinithumanga ngazo izicengo
Asinithenganga ngayo imibengo
Beku ngenga nzuzo zimakhwezikhwezi
Beku ngenga ndyebo zingange nkwekhwezi
Sikwatsho nakuni bafel’ iAfrika
Kwelase Jamani yase Mpumalanga
Nelase Jamani yase Ntsonalanga
Bekungenga mbeko eninayo kuKumkani
Bekungenga ntobeko yenu kwiBritane
Mhla nashiy’ ikhaya sithethile nani
Mhla nashiy’ iintsapho salathile kuni
Mhla sabamb’ izandla, mhla kwamanz’ amehlo
Mhla balil’ oonyoko, bangqukrulek’ ooyihlo
Mhla nazishiy’ intaba zezwe lenu
Mhla nayiy’ nikel’ imiv’ imilambo yezwe lenu
asitshongo na kuni midak’ owethu
Ukuthi “kwelo zwe nilidini lethu”?
Ngesi binge ngantoni ke kade?
Idini lomzi liyintoni ke kade?
Asi ngomathol’ amaduna omzi na?
Asi zizithandwa zesizwe kade na?
Ngoku kuthetha siyendelisela
Sibhekis’ ezantsi, sihlahl’ indlela
Asi ngohabheli na idini lomhlaba?
Asi ngoMesiya na elasezulwini?
Thuthuzelekani ngoko zinkedama!
Thuthuzelekani ngoko bafazana!
Kuf’ omnye kade mini kwakhiw’ omnye
Kukhonz’ omnye kade kuphil’ abanye
Ngala mazwi sithi thuthuzelekani
Ngokwenjenje kwethu sithi yakhekani
Lithatheni eli qhalo labadala
Kuba bathi “akuhlanga lungehlanga!”
Awu! Zaf’ int’ ezinkulu zeAfrika!
Isindiwe le nqanawe ‘de yazika
Kwaf’ amakhalipha, amafa naNkosi
Agazi lethetha kwiNkosi yeenkosi
Ukufa kwawo kunomvuzo nomvuka
Ndinga ndingema nawo ngemhla wovuko
Ndigqhame njengomny’ osebenzileyo
Ndikhanye njengomso oqaqambileyo
Sinking of the Mendi
Yes, this thing flows as a normal thing from that.
The thing we know is not scared of that;
We say, things have happened as they should have,
Within our brains we say: it should have been so;
If it hadn’t been so, nothing would have come right.
You see Sotase, things came right when the Mendi sank!
Our blood on that ship turned things around,
It served to make us known through the world!
The British didn’t buy us with begging;
They didn’t seduce us with long strips of meat;
They didn’t bribe us with things as high as the stars,
They didn’t bribe us with profits.
We say unto those who died, you were Africans,
Those who died in the country of the rising sun,
Those who died in the country of the setting sun,
You didn’t die out of subservience for the king,
Nor because you wanted to kowtow to Britain.
On the day you left home, we talked,
On the day you left, we promised to look after your families,
On this day we shook hands, our eyes were wet.
On this day mothers cried, you fathers sobbed,
On this day you left the mountains of your birth,
You left the rivers of our country behind
We said to you, going there as dark-skinned men,
We said: “You are our sacrifice from here.”
Could we have sacrificed anything more precious?
What did it mean to sacrifice a village?
Was it not giving the bull calves of your homestead?
Sending those very ones who loved you as a nation?
We’re talking deep now; we have added our voice,
Proudly we are part of those opening the road to freedom.
In the way Abel was the sacrifice of the earth?
In the way the Messiah was the sacrifice of heaven?
Be consoled, all you orphans!
Be consoled, all you young widows!
Somebody has to die, so that something can be built;
Somebody has to serve, so that others can live;
With these words we say: be consoled,
This is how we build ourselves, as ourselves.
Remember the saying of the old people:
“Nothing comes down, without coming down.”
Awu! The finest of Africa was busy dying!
The ship couldn’t carry its precious cargo,
It was echoing into the inner circles,
Their brave blood faced the King of Kings.
Their deaths had a purpose for all of us
How I wish I could be with them,
How I wish I could stand with them on resurrection day,
How I wish I could sparkle with them like the morning star.
Let it be so!
(Translated by Antjie Krog, Ncebakazi Saliwa & Koos Oosthuyzen)