From birding (there are more than 400 species recorded in the region) to horse trails
across the battlefields, from the challenge of white water rafting to leisurely cycle
tours, country rambles, and arts and crafts meanders. From unique cultural experiences
(including the opportunity to spend a night in an authentic Zulu beehive hut and
witness a sangoma commune with the spirits! to me invitation to explore and experience
unique military and cultural heritages.
Within easy driving distance there are water sports, bush adventures, hiking trails,
off road routes and a host of rivers and dams teeming with trout and bass.
There is the splendour of game reserves and lodges, where you truly experience the
wild life of Africa, including viewing die big five of lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo,
and elephant from the comfort and security of your own car. an open safari vehicle,
or on a guided game walk under the supervision of an experienced ranger.
Accommodation on the Battlefields Route ranges from cosy guest houses and welcoming
bed and breakfast establishments to mountain top lodges and family guest farms, from
country style hotels and lakeside chalets, to cottages, caravan parks and campsites.
While exploring the Battlefields take along a hat, comfortable walking shoes, an
umbrella, drinking water and sunscreen.
Details of all the attractions and accommodation options on the Battlefields Route
are available from any of the tourism information offices.
It is difficult to imagine that the scenic and tranquil landscape of central and
northern KwaZulu-Natal was once the focal point of major military engagements, where
Boer, British Zulu forces clashed in bloody conflicts that shaped the course of
South Africa and rocked the pedestal of the British Empire.
This green and pleasant region boasts the largest concentration of battlefields in
hemisphere, where over a period of some 70 years, one historical drama after another
unfolded against the backdrop of the African veld, sweeping grasslands and the majestic
mountains of the Drakensberg range.
The internationally renowned Battlefields Route draws visitors from around the world
- and with good reason. Every town, historical building, battle site and memorial
has a fascinating tale to tell, an event to commemorate, a poignant memory to recall.
Whether you treat your battlefields getaway as a self-drive exploration (armed with
maps and brochures available from the tourism association and information offices
in the region), or use the services of a specialist guide, your stay on the Battlefields
Route will bring an exciting new imension to your African experience.
EARLY ZULU CONFLICTS
Early in the 19th century King Shaka transformed a tiny tribe into a proud and powerful
nation. This nation building involved a continuing series of skirmishes and battles,
but by the mid-1820s the Zulus had emerged as the most power!u! and influential
nation in southern Africa.
The legend of Shaka still inspire pride among the Zulu people.
During a twelve-year reign, he built up and led a powerful army, while setting new
standards and cultural traditions for his people. Historians acknowledge his military
leadership and his prowess at developing new weapons (significantly the short stabbing
spear) and battlefield strategy (particularly izimpondo zenkomo,the horns-of-the-bull
encircling tactic). Despite understandably subjective Victorian criticism, contemporary
accounts from shipwrecked sailors in the 18th century describe the Zulus with whom
they came into contact as cheerful, prosperous and law-abiding people.
The introduction of British rule in the Cape Colony in 1806 led to dissatisfaction
among the fiercely independent Afrikaners, resulting in an exodus of Voortrekkers
to the hinterland, where they aspired to govern themselves and maintain their cultural
identity and language.
After crossing the Drakensberg mountains and entering Natal, the trekkers came into
conflict with some of the resident Zulu tribes and disputes arose over land ownership,
A group of trekkers under the leadership of Piet Retief arrived in Natal in 1838,
and during negotiations with Zulu king Dingane in the royal capital at Mgungundlovu,
the Voortrekker leader and 101 of his men were killed. This led to open hostilities
– with other groups of Voortrekkersbeing attacked and killed, and a commando dispatched
from Port Natalwas ambushed at Italeni.
The Voortrekkers mobilised to avenge the attacks making a vow that if God should
grant them victory over the Zulus, they would build a church in thanksgiving and
commemorate the event annually. On 16 December 1838, on the banks of the Ncome River
(meaning praiseworthy) 460 Voortrekkers defeated a strong Zulu army at the Battle
of Blood River/ Ncome.
THE REBELLION OF LANGALIBALELE 1873
Langalibalele (his name means the sun is boiling hot) was chief of the amaHlubi,
numbering some 9 400, who settled peacefully in the upper reaches of the Bushmans
River, in the Drakensberg mountains near Giant's Castle.
Many of the men of the tribe worked in Griqualand West, and were given firearms in
lieu of cash payment. The colonial government required these firearms to be registered;
the amaHlubi refused, and were declared to be in open rebellion.
Colonial forces were mobilized to prevent Langalibalele and his people fleeing over
the Bushman's Pass into Lesotho. Difficulties in navigating the mountain terrain
and the ill-defined passes led to the military under Major Anthony Durnford arriving
at the head of Bushman's Pass after many of the amaHlubi and their cattle had already
reached the top. General confusion and unease within the pursuers led to indiscriminate
shooting by both sides, and the having lost five men in the engagement, the government
forces retreated. After subsequent pursuits by a considerable force of colonial and
regular troops, Langalibalele surrendered on 11 December 1873. He was sentenced to
life imprisonment on Robben Island, but British Government intervention saw him released
ANGLO-ZULU WAR 1879
The continuing strengthening of the independent Zulu nation by King Cetshwayo was
perceived as a growing threat to the colonists of Natal, and in December 1878 the
British government issued an ultimatum that was impossible for the Zulus to meet.
When the demands of the ultimatum were not met, three British columns under the command
of Lieutenant-General Lord Chelmsford (who despite considerable experience in the
field nonetheless made the fatal mistake of underestimating the fighting ability
of the Zulus), crossed the Thukela and Buffalo Rivers and invaded Zululand. Isandlwana,
on 22 January 1879, some 20 000 Zulus overran the 1700 strong invading force, killing
more than 1300 officers and men. Survivors of the rout (including Victoria Cross
recipients Lieutenants Melvill and Coghill, who valiantly attempted to save the Queen's
Colour) were forced to flee across the BuffaloRiver, at a place now known as Fugitive's
On the same day a Zulu force attacked Rorke's Drift, a Swedish mission station used
by the British army as a commissariat and hospital. Here the "heroic hundred" repelled
a force of 4 000 Zulu warriors led by King Cetshwayo's brother Dabulamazi for twelve
hours. The British lost 17 men and won 11 Victoria Crosses, the most ever awarded
to a regiment in a military engagement. The war ended with the defeat of King Cetshwayo
at the Battle of Ulundi in 4 July 1879.
During the Anglo-Zulu War the last hopes of a Napoleonic dynasty died when Prince
Louis Napoleon, son of Napoleon II who was serving as an observer with the British
forces, was killed while on patrol.
TRANSVAAL WAR OF INDEPENDENCE 1880-1881
To the Boers watching from the heights it must have been an astonishing sight. Five
companies of redcoats advancing parallel to one another, each in its column of fours,
their white helmets and scarlet coats brilliant against the green of the plateau,
and in their midst, as had always been the custom of British infantry going into
action, the Colours unfurled - two large heavy standards nearly six feet square.
(The Anglo-Boer Wars – Michael Barthorp).
When the peaceful attempts of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (Transvaal) failed
to negotiate independence from the British through diplomacy, war was declared.
British forces were marched from Durban to Newcastle, close to the Transvaal border,
where they clashed with the Boers in a series of fierce encounters at Lang's Nek
Schuinshoogte and Majauba (Hill of Doves)
The armistice was signed in March 1881. The subsequent Pretoria Convention, signed
in October the same year, was never wholly acceptable to the Boers and sowed the
seeds of discontent that led to the Anglo-Boer War in.1899.
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