Kwazulu, South Africa. This is a beautiful part of the world. The road from Johannesburg goes through the rolling countryside of the Free State in hues of autumn; brown grass and turning maze with the wind turbines of the 1930s speckling the landscape. After the state-line with Natal/Kwazulu something changes: green, despite the lack of rain, is the dominant colour. Trees, broad acacias from the plains of another Africa, shade a different landscape of savannah. The houses change. Instead of the township architecture of single story brick and corrugated iron roof, the Zulu round house, thatched and elegant is the dominant style and the ladies, colourful and cheerful, wave as you pass. We are in Zululand and it is different.

Today we went to the battlefield of Isandelwana. Here in 1879 the British Army suffered its most humiliating defeat at the points of the asseigies of a Zulu nation that never wanted to fight a British empire that had invaded on pretexts that made Hitler's invasion of Poland look ingenuous. The battlefield is worth a visit as, apart from some trees (there were none then) and the odd village, it is a landscape little changed from that terrible day. It is marked with cairns of white stones where they buried the British dead on the spots where they fell in graves of between eight and ten. The concentrations of stones mark the progress of the battle culminating in a cluster marking the the final stand where the last of thirteen hundred were cut down. All this under the twilight of an eclipse of the sun. They were only buried six months later when the British army returned to after the murderous battle of Ulundi where Gatling guns saw off spears and hide shields. By then they were burying only skeletons held together by sun-bleached red tunics.

As the sun sank on its fast African trajectory later in the afternoon, we sat spellbound in the missionary station of Rorke's Drift as the tale of the battle was told by an expert - theatre at its tragic best - standing on the ground made famous by Michael Caine every Christmas as he fends off the Zulu hoards in the eponymous film. This battle only happened because the right wing, or horn of the buffalo, of the Zulu army missed the slaughter of Isandelwana and the impis had not 'washed their spears'. No Zulu man could marry without this 'washing' - normally in the entrails of an unfortunate Swazi - and it was against the express orders of Chetaweyo, the Zulu king, that these warriors crossed the Buffalo River, the border with British Natal, to attack Rorke's Drift later the same day. So it was sex that caused the slaughter that followed in an area half the size of a football pitch. Eleven VCs were won that day amongst the rag-tag garrison of the two tiny buildings that made up Rorke's Drift.Three thousand Zulus whose country had been invaded and who had marched thirty five miles and fought until the early hours of the following day without a meal, died there too.

If there was ever a pointless war, this must be it.

1 comment

  1. There is a chance you qualify for a new solar energy program.
    Click here to find out if you're qualified now!


Blogger Template Created by pipdig