Straightening out facts about some SS Mendi Mpondo chiefs

In the upcoming National Arts Festival, the multidisciplinary multimedia production Sabamnye noMendi marking the sinking of the SS Mendi in the English Channel in 1917 is to take centre-stage.

The author-journalist, Fred Khumalo, has also written a book titled Dancing the Dance Thrill in commemoration of the same tragedy.

It is forgivable that some facts are inaccurately represented in the works about the tragedy of the SS Mendi because of the lapse of time.

However, what is less forgivable is the failure to verify facts about some personalities whose families are still in existence.

In most, if not all, the publications about the chiefs from eMaMpondweni – sometimes adulterated to Pondoland as in the Daily Dispatch article “SS Mendi a centrepiece of NAF 2017” (May 16) – is the line stating “among those who died on the SS Mendi were Mpondoland chiefs Henry Bokleni, Dokoda Richard Ndamase, Mxonywa Bangani and Mongameli and the Reverend Isaac Wauchope Dyobha.

The personalities are reflected with limited accuracy.

It is true that Henry Bokleni, called “Hendi” by AmaMpondo, was one of the chiefs in the regiment from eMaMpondweni. Henry was the son of King Bokleni of AmaMpondo aseNyandeni (Western Mpondoland). He was the half-brother of the well-known King Victor Poto Ndamase (“Bhekizulu”) who reigned from 1918 to 1974 when he died.

He was the son of Bokleni’s first wife, MaNxazonke, and Victor Poto was the son of the great wife MaNgangelizwe (the daughter of King Ngangelizwe of AbaThembu).

It was during those times that many people in Mpondoland had their fathers’ names registered as their surnames.

Otherwise, Henry is from the same Ndamase lineage as others on the list.

It is in his honour that a high school in Ntlaza in Ngqeleni was named as Chief Henry Bokleni Senior Secondary School, and he was the father of Chief Douglas Dywabasini Prince (DDP) Ndamase whose son, Malizole Ndamase (“Gcinizizwe”), was buried in MaMpondomiseni in Ngqeleni on April 17 this year.

What needs to be corrected is the identity of the chief referred to as “Dokoda Richard Ndamase”. The correct name is Bhokoda not Dokoda.

Bhokoda was another son of King Bokleni. Richard Ndamase is a different person from Bhokoda.

In some older publications, he is reflected as Richard Dumezweni. This is so because he was the son of Dumezweni, Bokleni’s half-brother, and the first son of King Nkqwiliso.

As in the case of Henry, Dumezweni was the son of the first wife of King Nkqwiliso, called MaMnguni, but the great wife was Bokleni’s mother, MaNcaphayi (the daughter of Chief Ncaphayi of AmaBhaca).

Richard’s full names are Richard Ndabazendlu Ndamase (“Mjongile!”) and AmaMpondo also called him “Lutshedu”. When Richard left for the First World War, his wife was pregnant and as he was about to board ship in Cape Town, he got the news that his wife has given birth to a baby boy.

He sent a message that the boy must be named Nyaniso.

Nyaniso would never meet his father who perished in the war and he had to grow up and take over the newly demarcated land of his father, the Katini administrative area, as the hereditary chief. Before Richard left for the war, his father Dumezweni had allocated him three villages Katini, Nquba and KwaMhlongwana in line with the Mpondo practice of sharing your land with your sons as a chief.

Richard’s son Nyaniso (“Dilizintaba!”) grew up to land up on Robben Island in the early 1960s for his involvement in the struggle for freedom. He passed on tragically in a car accident in 1993, already predeceased by his great son, Nkongozelo. The “crown prince” of Richard’s lineage is Mbuyiseo Ndamase who still works in the mines.

On Mongameli, he was the great son of Dumezweni of King Nkqwiliso and the half-brother of Richard Ndamase.

Mongameli, called Mengameli in proper Mpondo language, did not go to the war because he was the heir in Dumezweni’s house, a senior house (right hand) of the Ndamase lineage.

Mengameli was murdered in 1939.

Richard’s territory is subordinate to Mengameli’s. The surviving chief in Mengameli’s lineage is his grandson Chief Zamdola Ndamase (“Ginintlanga!”) of Caesar Kaizer Ndamase (“Dalibhunga!”).

Such factual errors must be corrected for the record to assist artists and authors who want to pursue the story further.

Malibongwe Ngcai is an independent researcher and commentator on Mpondo history


  1. Mhlekazi u Ngcai, ukuba bendisazi isiduko sakho ngendikukhala ngaso!
    Lihle ngeyona ndlela igalelo lakho mntram! Uyibeke yacaca gca! oku kwekati emhlophe ehlungwini…
    oneendlebe uvile! iluncedo kakhulu lengcaciso yakho kuthi bantu baphanda ngembali yakuthi…
    Qhubeka ke ngolohlobo mntakwethu, zinintsi kakhulu izinto ezifuna ukulungiswa ezikufana nale usandokuyilungisa!
    Ndinomdla wokufunda nangakumbi kokusuka kwisandla sakho!
    Amade ngawetyala! Camagu!

    • Ndiyabulela. Ndizawukhe ndengeze. Isizwe ngasinye sinembali yaso ekumele siyikhusele ukuze sikwazi ukwandisa nokongeza ngembali yezizwe.

  2. In the article on SS Mendi Chiefs on the DD of 18 May 2017, I mistakenly wrote ‘Bhokoda’ instead of ‘Dokoda Bhokleni’. The mistake is regretted. Otherwise the rest of the content is maintained.

    M Ngcai