African shoestrings – South Africa Day Twenty-two
In the middle to the end of nineteenth century a large group of Afrikaners, (descendants of the original, mainly Dutch, French and German settlers) trekked their way their way from the Cape after the British took control of the Cape colony. This was called the Great Trek.
When they got to Natal they found the Zulu’s here and after trying to negotiate for some land ended up fighting them.
Now the British were also there and they had already claimed the land but started to feel threatened by a build up in Zulu numbers, eventually, you’ve guessed it, another war, called unimaginatively the Anglo-Zulu war, broke out.
Two famous battles were fought in this war, Isandlwana and Rorke’s drift.
Four years ago we stayed in Dundee and visited both the local Talana museum, a resource of information and displays about all the battles and events of these wars, and the scene of Rorke’s drift. The heroic effort by 139 British soldiers to hold off 4000 Zulu’s was immortalised by the movie Zulu. It starred Michael Caine and Stanley Baker and we loved it, henceforth our desire to see the real thing! It’s one of those places that requires a lot of imagination.
None of the original buildings are there and the grassland that was there at the time has been overrun by scrub due to years of overgrazing. But the museum, available literature and markers that are dotted around go some way towards transporting you back into time.
Now the whole reason for us coming back to this area was to see the other Battlefield, Isandlwana.
What happened at this hill a few hours before the Battle of Rorke’s Drift was horrific. I won’t bore you with the complex maneuvers that took place beforehand except to say in summary that the British had issued an ultimatum demanding this, that and the other, which the Zulu’s ignored, triggering off a British invasion of Zululand. The British centre force accidentally stumbled on the main Zulu force at Isandlwana, which spoilt the Zulu’s plan for a surprise attack. So they attacked anyway and in two hours 20,000 men surrounded the British and annihilated 1400 of the 1800 British soldiers. Some of the survivors found their way to Rourke’s Drift and helped fortify the position together with the small force that had been left there to guard a river crossing and supplies.