The Black Panther, the Marvel mega block buster set in the fictional African country Wakanda, put the thorny issue of the colonial-era appropriation back on the debate block.

In the film, the character Eric “Killmonger” Stevens – played by Michael B Jordan – steals an African war hammer from the British Museum, but not before asking the curator how she thought her ancestors had come by the object. Had it been bought, or taken “like they took everything else?”

The year was 1992, the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the SS Mendi, the troop carrier bound for the war in Europe in 1917 that sank, killing more than 850 South African soldiers. It has been dubbed the 20th century’s worst maritime disaster. It was a poignant moment as a handful of the ancient men, rocking unsteadily on a boat in the English Channel, saluted as one of their number threw a wreath of flowers into the choppy sea. Their wet, rheumy eyes told their story, these soldiers who were the last survivors of the SS Mendi. As the Sunday Times’ London correspondent, I was on that bobbing boat, noting how the passing of time had not dimmed the horror of being thrown into an icy sea for these old men. It made me wonder what the men, now all gone, would have thought of British Prime Minister Theresa May gift to South Africa, the SS Mendi bell that was found off the seas of the Isle of Wight. Theresa May, here on a whirlwind trade-talks tour, was mocked mercilessly for shuffle dan...

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