Humanities computer room makes UCT history

16 September 2002
THE NEW Umendi Computer Lab may not be the most commodious or technologically advanced on Campus, but the "little" room is unique in that it is the first at UCT to have its name – as it appears on its signage – emblazoned in both English and Xhosa.

Located in the Beattie Building, the laboratory was established by the Faculty of Humanities as a facility where its many undergraduate students can work on their projects. In addition to its 20 PCs, the room features some African murals by the Faculty's IT manager, Vicki Scholtz, who also worked closely with operations manager, Robert Worship, to set up the facility.

In commemoration, the laboratory has been named after the SS UMendi, a troopship that sank in the icy waters of the English Channel on the morning of February 20, 1917, after it was accidentally rammed by an allied ship. On board, heading for duty in France, were 823 South African soldiers, of whom 802 were Africans serving in the South African Native Labour Corps (SANLC).

In addition to the officers and crewmembers who died on the day, 607 soldiers of the Corps went down with the vessel.

According to Dr Abner Nyamende, a lecturer in the Department of African Languages and Literatures who has a special interest in this historic event, the naming of the room is part of the Faculty's drive to encapsulate the achievements and languages of black South Africans.

"It is the unifying spirit of the men onboard the UMendi that the little computer room at UCT will stand to symbolise," he said.

Faculty Dean, Professor Robin Cohen, added that the naming of the facility is part of the Faculty's efforts to change its institutional culture.

"We thought it would be appropriate, as we begin to Africanise and recognise the achievements of black people, to look at other aspects of our history," he said of the Faculty's search for a suitable name for the laboratory.

In keeping with this vision, the signage to the room has been inscribed in both English, as the UMendi Computer Lab, and in Xhosa as UMendi – Igumbi Leekhompyutha.

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