Book 'Dancing the Death Drill' re-imagines sinking of the SS Mendi 100 years ago

It is 100 years today since the sinking of the SS Mendi, a ship carrying over 800 South Africans who had signed up to serve in WW1 as part of the South African Native Labour Corps.

Many hoped that their service would help win support for their own struggles at home as they faced the tightening noose of racial laws in South Africa and especially the Native Land Act.

The ships was struck by a container vessel while sailing in the English Channel and 646 people lost their lives, most of them black South African soldiers.

Author Fred Khumalo has written and published a work of historical fiction based around the Mendi story, named 'Dancing the Death Drill.'

Khumalo says more needs to be done to creatively document and teach the world about South Africa's own history.

He says he was exposed to the story growing up through oral story-telling and tribute songs.

It's one of those stories that get told form generation to generation through the oral tradition

Fred Khumalo, author

He says the tragic story was rekindled in his mind during a visit to war graves in Paris in 2003.

The book was not easy to write, Khumalo explains, as there were very little resources and archives about the event.

That is when he re-imagined the narrative and chose to write it as a novel and not a fiction book.

Khumalo reads a moving extract from his book and explains the title 'Dancing the Death Drill'.

Take a listen to his interview with CapeTalk's Pippa Hudson:

Also listen to Fred Khumalo in conversation with 702's Azania Mosaka:


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