The Order of Mendi for Bravery
On 21 February 1917, the ship SS Mendi sank in the cold waters of the English Channel near the Isle of Wight, after being struck by another ship in an unfortunate naval accident. On board were more than 600 black South African volunteer soldiers en route to France to assist in the Allied war effort during the First World War.
The soldiers, and their fellow white officers, having all assembled on deck of the badly listing ship and realising their imminent death because the portside lifeboats had been rendered unusable, began to sing and perform a traditional death dance. Legend has it that they bravely resigned themselves to their fate and continued to sing before the vessel plunged to the seabed.
In honour of the fearless men of the SS Mendi, this Order is awarded for acts of bravery.
Fittingly, the central motif of the design of this Order is the oval shape of a traditional African shield, usually made from animal hide woven into a rigid and durable armour and used for protection in close combat. The band, which renders the shape of the shield, is punctuated with the spoor of the lion, representing vigilance, power and bravery, and symbolising South Africa’s efforts at protecting its borders and the country. The band is criss-crossed with the tips and bases of a knobkierrie and a spear, traditional symbols of defence and honour.
The central image within the shield is an image of the SS Mendi sailing on the waters of the English Channel.
The depiction of the blue crane in flight above the SS Mendi symbolises the departing souls of the drowned soldiers.
The feathers of the blue crane were traditionally conferred to adorn brave warriors during the time of colonial wars.
The central image is sealed above by a green emerald which is surrounded on three sides by renditions of the bitter aloe, a hardy indigenous South African plant used in traditional medicine. The three bitter aloes represent resilience and survival and also serve as symbolic directional pointers, showing the way when rendering assistance to those in need during natural disasters.
The Order of Mendi Decoration for Bravery award comprises three elements:
- a neck badge (a gold, silver or bronze medallion on a neck band);
- a miniature (a miniature gold, silver or bronze medallion for wearing as a brooch or on the breast pocket)
- and a lapel rosette (also in gold, silver or bronze).
Recipients of this award are entitled to indicate that they have been invested with the relevant category of the Order by the use of the following post-nominal letters:
- OMBG for recipients of the Order of Mendi for Bravery (gold)
- OMBS for recipients of the Order of Mendi for Bravery (silver)
- OMBB for recipients of the Order of Mendi for Bravery (bronze).
Awards of the Order of Mendi Decoration for Bravery are made to South Africans who have performed acts of bravery.
The act of bravery may have occurred anywhere in the world.
This order is awarded in gold for exceptional acts of bravery in which awardees would have placed their lives in great danger or may have lost their lives in their efforts to save lives or property, in silver, for extraordinary acts of bravery through which recipients’ lives were placed in great danger while saving or trying to rescue persons or property, and in bronze for outstanding acts of bravery through which their lives were endangered while saving or trying to rescue persons or property.