On this day in history, February 21

The SS Mendi, which sunk in 1917 off the Isle of Wight in the UK, killing about 600 South Africans who were members of the South African Native Labour Corps. They were on their way to France to assist in World War I

The SS Mendi, which sunk in 1917 off the Isle of Wight in the UK, killing about 600 South Africans who were members of the South African Native Labour Corps. They were on their way to France to assist in World War I

Published Feb 21, 2024


More than just dates and boring facts

1784 The settlement and stronghold in Crimea called Akhtiar gains the name, Sevastopol, it bears today. The name in Greek means ‘magnificent’.

1797 Britain is invaded for the last time.

1803 Britain returns the Cape to the Netherlands.

1808 Without declaring war, Russian troops cross the Swedish border, beginning the Finnish War, in which Sweden will lose the eastern half of the country (Finland).

1850 Laden with prisoners, the ship Neptune returns to England from Simon’s Bay, where it had been anchored from September 1849. The 288 prisoners shackled aboard couldn’t go ashore because the burghers opposed a penal settlement, such as in Australia, in the Cape Colony.

1910 The legless fighter ace who fought in the Battle of Britain, Royal Air Force Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader is born.

1916 The Battle of Verdun, one of the bloodiest engagements of World War I, began with an all-out German attack. The 10-month battle resulted in more than 250 000 battlefield deaths with a further half million wounded.

1917 The troopship SS Mendi collides with the RMS Darro near the Isle of Wright and sinks taking with her 616 Black South Africans, who were on their way to France to fight for the Allies. ‘Be quiet and calm, my countrymen. What is happening now is what you came to do ... you are going to die, but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we are drilling the death drill. I, a Xhosa, say you are my brothers ... Swazis, Pondos, Basotho ... so let us die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war-cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our assegais in the kraal, our voices are left with our bodies’, were reputed to be the last words of Rev Wauchope Dyobha, who went down with the ship.

1918 Australians chase Turkish troops out of Jericho, in Dutch Palestine.

1941 Japan warns Britain against military movements in South-East Asia. By the end of the year Japan had invaded Malaya and landed in the Philippines.

1958 Manchester United footballer Duncan Edwards dies from his injuries 15 days after an air crash in Munich killed seven players from the dream team, nicknamed the Busby Babes.

1965 Activist Malcolm X is shot dead by Nation of Islam followers in New York City.

1973 Israeli fighter jets down a Libyan passenger plane over the Sinai, killing 108.

1989 Two members of Winnie Mandela’s bodyguard are charged with murdering 14 year-old James ‘Stompie’ Sepei,.

The teenage activist became the country's youngest political detainee when he spent his 12th birthday in jail without trial. He and three other boys were kidnapped from Methodist minister Paul Verryn’s Soweto home on December 29, 1988, by members of Winnie Mandela’s bodyguards (the Mandela United Football Club). All were four severely beaten, but Sepei, the youngest, was the only one killed, apparently because he was threatening to expose Richardson as a police spy.

In 1991, Winnie Mandela was convicted of kidnapping and being an accessory to assault. Appearing before the TRC in 1997, she said allegations that she was involved in at least 18 human rights abuses including eight murders were ‘ridiculous’. But The Commission found that the abduction of Seipei had been carried out on Mandela's orders, and that she had ‘initiated and participated in the assaults’, had resisted efforts by the ‘Mandela Crisis Committee’ to get the boys released, and had attempted to cover up the death by claiming that Seipei had fled to Botswana. The Commission also found Mandela ‘negligent in that she failed to act responsibly in taking the necessary action required to avert his death’.

1995 Manchester Utd football star Eric Cantona is charged with assault after kicking a jeering fan following his sending-off in a match against Crystal Palace.

1995 Steve Fossett lands in Saskatchewan, Canada becoming the first to make a solo flight across the Pacific Ocean in a balloon.

1996 French super centenarian Jeanne Calment, verified as the the world’s oldest ever citizen, releases a pop CD to celebrate her 121st birthday. her diet consists of mostly Mediterranean-style foods, which included olive oil, red wine, fish, and fresh fruits and vegetables. She was also known to enjoy dark chocolate and consumed a moderate amount of coffee and cigarettes throughout her life.

2001 Former US president Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, come under further pressure as it emerged that Mrs Clinton's brother, Hugh Rodham, received payments of $400 000 in return for lobbying for presidential pardons for two convicted criminals, while Clinton's half-brother, Roger, himself the beneficiary of a pardon, had sought clemency for six others.

2012 Three members of Pussy Riot, an all-female Russian punk band, performed anti-Putin songs on the altar of Moscow’s main cathedral. They were arrested and later jailed, despite international criticism.

2014 Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich fled Kyiv after agreeing to hold elections by the end of the year. Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was freed from prison, and anti-government protesters were granted amnesty.

2019 The Lunar Library, a 30-million page digital library is launched on board Israel’s Beresheet lunar lander, with the aim of it being stored on the Moon.

January 21, 2024, Graphics show birthdays and anniversaries on each day for the week. This week features the first nuclear-powered submarine, the Taj Mahal in India, the ban on aerosol sprays using fluorocarbon gases, the first Apple Macintosh computer, the first Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix, the capture of Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, the use of child jockeys in camel races