”An Address at the Mendi Memorial Celebration, Bantu Sports Grounds, Johannesburg.” by Dr. A. B. Xuma, February 23, 1941

Fellow Countrymen,

On the eleventh hour, the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 an armistice was signed bringing to an end what was known as the "Great War" or "World War". The aims of that war were stated in various ways. It was declared to be a war fought to make the world safe for democracy, and to make democracy safe for the world; a war to give self-determination to smaller or weaker nations; a war to end war. Tacitly, in these pronouncements, individual freedom and social justice were held out as the coveted prize and just reward for mankind if the allied arms were victorious in the struggle. That promise, that noble ideal fired the imagination of men of many Nations, races, colours and creeds. They answered the call of their respective countries.

In South Africa, along with other-countrymen white and non-white, the African volunteered and served in theatres of war in Africa and on the continent of Europe. With other South African soldiers and servicemen he faced bullets and pestilence in the defence of freedom of the State and of the boundaries of the Union of South Africa in the hope that he and his own with others who survive, might enjoy the freedom of the State as well as liberty in his own country.

At the beginning of the "World War", the African had a genuine grievance arising from the evictions and privations resulting from the operation of the provisions of the Natives Land Act—1913. But, because of his deep sense of honour and responsibility, the African through his Chiefs and leaders recognized as his first and foremost duty the preservation of the State. Thus from every Province thousands of Africans joined the colours, risked their lives and many died in the service of Africa—their Country.

The Africans' record of loyalty and faithful service is excelled by that of no other section in South Africa. They are no fair-weather loyalists. They are true South Africans indeed. They know no other loyalties but hope to work out their salvation through negotiations and mutual understanding with their white fellow-citizens here.

Today, we have gathered together once more to commemorate the tragic death of those 615 Africans who went down the English Seas with the transport-ship Mendi, in 1917. They left their loved ones, their kith and kin. They dared and braved enemy submarines, mines, battleships and sea-raiders to perform the dangerous service their country had assigned to them. They died, they paid the supreme sacrifice. They met their fate heroically as disciplined men. We are proud of their memory. They died, that others, their kith and kin, might be free to share fully in the fruits of democracy; namely, personal and individual freedom and social justice.

Can a race which is willing to make such sacrifices and which produces men of such courage, dependability and devoted service to King and Country in the hour of greatest need be denied any rights and privileges at the gift of the State? I answer emphatically, NO! It may be so for a single while, but not always.

I recognise that fear, sometimes, drives people to commit certain acts of violence and/or injustice to others on the plea of self-preservation. I, nevertheless, believe that in the calm that permits reflection after the storm, moral courage and a sense of justice will ultimately prevail.

South Africa is rich in natural wealth. Her gold and her diamonds, in quality, have been graded among the best in the world. But, South Africa's most valuable, precious and priceless jewel is the African himself. At present, the African is looked down upon as brawn without brain. It is true that through lack of training and development his brain in the main, may be likened to diamonds in the rough or unwrought gold. However, if the African's brain were polished and developed by a process of liberal education with unrestricted opportunities to function according to ability and capacity without restriction on account of race and colour. South Africa would have tapped within her borders an oasis of material, mental and spiritual power which would make her truly independent and self-contained indeed with home markets for her produce and manpower to contribute to her full development.

There is much evidence to show that even with the limited opportunities or with no special training the African has a valuable natural native mental endowment as shown by achievement of Africans with or without training. At the risk of being criticised and misunderstood for mentioning certain names of Chiefs and people who merit inclusion in the following list of random examples, I shall mention but a few as time is limited. For instance, in Chief Moshoeshoe, she produced a great statesman and nation-builder, in Tshaka, a great dictator, organiser of men and strategist. In the educational world, our John L. Dubes, the Reginald Cingos and others, to mention just a few, give us hope of a great future in educational administration. In law, the Mangenas, Semes, Pos-wayos and others gave a spark of brilliant legal minds who were handicapped by circumstances beyond their control. Among the medical men, our Sogas, Molemas, Morokas, Bokwes and others we have men who, given facilities that encourage continuous growth and development in the practice of their profession, could have established national and international reputations for themselves. In scholarship our Zachariah Matthews, Don Mtimkulu, and young Mokuena, recently a matriculant at St. Peter's Secondary School, show that the African brain is as good as the best among other races. Our young Medical students are doing well overseas. Dr. Andries Sipo Qunta of the Transkei was given a graduate scholarship at Edinburgh University on merit. He is now serving, in the present war, as a Ship's Surgeon of his Majesty's Royal Navy. Mr. Bikitsha, of the Transkei, also a medical student at Edinburgh University has distinguished himself in sports and in scholarship. He represented Edinburgh University in the inter-British University Sports and won places for his University. He received the Edinburgh blue in recognition of his achievements. In his examinations, he took 'firsts' in midwifery, Gynecology and Forensic Medicine. These achievements were accomplished among and against students of all colours and various races. This and other successes by Africans, at home and abroad, indicate that given an opportunity the African will measure up and take his rightful and God-given place among the members of the human family.

By the way, this record sets our mind at ease about the South African Native Trust scholars who have begun their full course of study in medicine in South Africa. They are no more a problem to teach than any other student. Their brothers before them have studied medicine and passed their examinations with honours and merit in some of the leading Universities of England, America and Germany. Our South African standard in medical education may be as good, but cannot be any higher.

After mentioning the Union Native Affairs Medical Scholarships for African students, I would have failed in my duty if I did not express publicly the African people's appreciation of this gesture of good will on the part of the Government. This is a step in the right direction—the spending of public taxes for the training of enlightened leaders of llte-African race. If the Union Gov­ernment address themselves towards encouraging the high aspirations of the Africans for progress, good and enlightened citizenship as we have every hope they will, and urge them to, they will have earned for themselves and the European section as a whole the everlasting gratitude of the African people. Nothing but good-will, better race relations, and increasing confidence in the good intentions and justice of the white fellow-countrymen, can come out of such moves.
Today our country is engaged in another war, a war that threatens to destroy all the finer qualities that man seems to have acquired through the ages. And, as during the last "World War", along with his fellow country-men European, Coloured and Indians, the African is with the Union Colours—having offered to serve anywhere even at the front line. We have no doubt that, as all these men of various races are making equal and like sacrifices in the defence of their common country, they will enjoy the full privileges and immunities laid down in the Defence Act of the Union of South Africa and share in the full benefits of the Moratorium Act. And, further, we hope that their separation allowances and pensions will be reasonably sufficient enough not to make them anxious for their dependents—wives, children and mothers as the case may be.
We realise the difficult task of the Government arising out of the state of emergency in the country. Reports from other countries show that men are offering a strange prayer "God help us, devil help us" depending on the trend of successes in the struggle in the hope that their prayer will be answered and they will be well received whichever side wins the war. Many responsible people, therefore, have been anxious about the dangers of anti-state propaganda among the Africans. If I were permitted to advise the authorities in this delicate situation, I would suggest, that if all statutory regulations and technical offences which are crimes for Africans only were removed and employment offered, and a living wage established for all including Africans, no amount of propaganda from any source would be effective among the Africans.

As I speak here. South Africa's sons of all races are spilling their blood to keep her free. They have staked their all to protect those they leave behind. South Africa is fighting for noble and high ideals—for Christian democracy and human decency. And because of these ideals South Africa dare not dis­criminate against any section of her population on account of race or colour and be true to her ideals.

It seems to me, therefore, that in memory of the men who died in the Mendi and of thousands of others of all races who lost their lives during the World War as well as in honour of white and non-white men who are keeping South Africa's boundaries inviolate in the North and from the high seas, South Africa can build no more valuable or a lasting monument for them than to maintain and operate during the war her democratic institutions and to grant, now, and henceforth freedom in the state and social justice for all her people irrespective of race, creed or colour. This is not merely winning the war, this is winning peace.

This done, these brave dead will not have died in vain. Thus South Africa will have done herself great honour and brought glory to her name.