Stichting Mendi foundation

Welcome to the Mendi Foundation

The foundation has been set up to ensure the future documentation and living legacy of the SS Mendi maritime disaster which occurred in the English Channel on 21 February 1917, at the height of the Great War. More than 600 servicemen, mostly members of the 5th Battalion South African Native Labour Corps, who were on their way to serve on the Western Front in France, perished when their ship collided with another British vessel and sunk.

In May 1917, five bodies washed up on Dutch shores…

More than a century later, five tombstones erected at the Noordwijk General Cemetery in the Netherlands remind us that their stories have yet to be told. The Mendi Foundation does this in a unique and personal way by tracing the histories and next-of-kin of the victims who lie buried here in the Netherlands. Their stories will be recorded in a documentary and book.


Established in the Netherlands on 17 October 2018, the foundation is hard at work raising funds to bring a number of the next-of-kin to visit the graves at the Noordwijk General Cemetery this year. Their stories will be documented in a film and book to raise awareness about this little-known military disaster and give it a firm place in world history. The documentary will be distributed to national and international networks and adapted as an educational tool for schools in South Africa. The proceeds will be used to fund future commemorative events and exhibitions. Ultimately, Mendi scholarships for South African students from disadvantaged backgrounds will be set up to encourage students to value their heritage.

The ID document found on the body of Private Sikaniso Mtolo. It provided the vital clue which led to finding his family in South Africa.

Tracing the next-of-kin

More than a century after the WWI maritime disaster in the English Channel, the Mendi Foundation sets out to discover how these men left their different homes at the southern tip of Africa to perish in a war that wasn’t theirs.

Sikaniso Mtolo’s grandsons, from left to right: Martin Mtolo, Mbizweni Mtolo, and Gayeni Mtolo in Richmond, South Africa (picture by Khaya Ngwenia).

Sikaniso Mtolo’s story

On 22 January 2014, the lively curiosity of Noordwijk historian, Mark Sijlmans, led to the discovery of the identity document of one of the five men buried at the Noordwijk General Cemetery in a Haarlem archive in the Netherlands. It was the clue that made it possible to contact the next-of-kin to let them know about the fate of their great-grandfather, Sikaniso Mtolo, who had set off to find work and was never heard of again. How the news was received and led to a visit to the graves in the Netherlands will be featured in a documentary and book that are now in the making.

Contact established with the families so far…

A great deal of research has been carried out, and contact has been made with two of the families of the descendants of the South African servicemen buried at the war graves in Noordwijk. One of the searches resulted in the finding of Private Sikaniso Mtolo’s three grandsons, Martin, Mbizweni and Gayeni Mtolo. The journey to locate them is told in this newspaper report in The Times.

Voor een Nederlandse versie van het verhaal over het contact met the families in Zuid Afrika, verwijzen wij u naar dit artikel in De Duin- en Bollenstreek.

The making of a documentary

Cinematographer and documentary producer, Zeb Ngobese, earned his spurs in South Africa and worked for numerous broadcasters such as National Geographic, M-net and the South African Broadcasting Corporation. Productions included ‘Survivor South Africa’, ‘Master Chef South Africa’ and ‘Hyena Coast’.

Filming has now started on the Mendi documentary. In the photograph below Zeb is on location in Richmond, South Africa, where he has conducted interviews with the grandsons of Private Sikaniso Mtolo.

Interviews with next-of-kin

We will be interviewing the next-of-kin when they arrive in the Netherlands later this year.