In early 1917, the SS Mendi set sail from Cape Town, taking hundreds of black South African volunteers to support the Allied forces fighting in France. But early in the morning of 21 February 1917, the Mendi collided with a cargo ship amid thick fog in the English Channel south of the Isle of Wight and sank, killing 616 South Africans and 30 of the Mendi‘s crew.
SS Mendi: Dancing the Death Drill, set in Paris 40 years after the war, focuses on one of the ship’s passengers: Pitso Motaung, who sailed aboard the Mendi and lived to tell the tale. Based on Fred Khumalo’s historical novel and performed by South Africa’s award-winning Isango Ensemble, SS Mendi: Dancing the Death Drill tells a startling story of how this maritime disaster gave rise to a life of hope, courage and resilience.
Co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW, Repons Foundation and Nuffield Southampton Theatres