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

Makube njalo!

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)