Our return from Kruger to Richards Bay was further west through lower parts of the Drakensburg mountains and the Battlefields region of Kwazulu-Natal. The scenery of the former is lovely with beautiful sweeping forested hills, while the history of the battlefields was intriguing and critical to the history of South Africa. In quite a small area between the mountains that mark the border with Lesotho and the sea there were literally a few dozen significant battlefields from a period of not much more than 60 years. Zulus, Boers,and British - pick all of the possible combinations and you will find where they fought. We only had time to visit a couple of these but a history buff could lose himself here for weeks.
|Part of the Blyde River Canyon. The drive from Kruger southward was often quite gorgeous|
This pile of rocks marks the centre of the Boer's laager. Around it, during the time of Boers, a life-size ring of bronze wagons along with the fencing used to connect the wagons was built as a monument to the battle which became a centre-point in Boer nationalism and the belief that there was a covenant between God and the Boer people that gave South Africa to the Boers. The SA government have now built a museum across the river to memorialise the Zulus who were killed here.We tried to drive there but the road was just too rough for our heavily loaded Hyundai. BTW, James Mitchener's novel, "The Covenant" is highly recommended if you would like to know more about South Africa's history including the story of the Boers.
British-Zulu War 1877, Battle of Rorke's Drift
The British seemed not to have learned the lesson of the Boer's incredible victory in 1838, that is to keep your forces massed in one place and let the Zulus attack you. They sent a force into Zululand in 1879 to put down a Zulu revolt but allowed their forces to get spread over a large area near Islandlwana. This meant that the Zulus were able to attack small elements individually. The result was one of the worst British defeats ever. Meanwhile, about 10 km away a tiny British garrison of only 140 were left to defend a field hospital and supply base after a few hundred native soldiers left. The force here was led by a military engineer and included the commissary department, and the wounded from the hospital. One thing they did have was lots of supplies so they built defensive walls from the hospital to the store using mealie (corn meal) bags. In case they could not defend this perimeter they built a second wall from biscuit tins that would allow them to only have to defend about a third of their small area. Finally, they built a tiny circular redoubt (perhaps 3 m in diameter) if the inner wall fell;. They did this because they knew that the Zulus did not take prisoners.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 Zulus attacked Rorke's Drift over two days, but the bastion did not fall. By the time that the Zulus withdrew, the garrison was almost out of ammunition for the modern Martini-Henry rifles that were their salvation. The army gave out a remarkable 11 Victoria Crosses to the defenders. A British general thought this was excessive since the defenders were fighting for their lives and really had no choice but to be courageous and hence did not deserve such an exalted medal - an interesting perspective to be sure. Some observers say that the large number of VCs was to draw attention away from the disaster at Isandlwana just a few miles away on the same day.
This is what Rorke's Drift looks like today. The buildings were not there during the battle. The stone trench marks one of the mealie bag walls. It is hard to reconcile this peaceful setting with the savagery of the battle that took place here.
We got this picture from our friend Lew. This is the hippo that is reputed to be the one that bit off a man's leg in St Lucia. The guide who told us that said that they killed a hippo after the attack, but it was the wrong one. The now dead hippo was a quiet sort who had been in the town at night for more than 15 years. We saw this guy on our way home from dinner one night (we drove even though it was not far). The next night he was right outside our guest house driveway. And I thought that the raccoons that frequent the streets of Toronto at night were a problem.