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 clashes; where over a time span of 70 years, one historical
drama after another unfolded against the backdrop of the African veld and
the majestic Drakensberg Mountains. The region boasts the largest
concentration of battlefields in South Africa drawing visitors from all over
the world. Here military engagements that were to shape the course of South
African and world history, and rock the Empire, raged over the green hills
and sweeping grasslands of the region. Each historical building, battlesite
and memorial has a fascinating tale to tell and memory to recall.
Above: Soldiers of the Queen at the
battle of Isandlwana
Cairn. The sphinx–like Isandlwana mountain resides over the site where Lord
Chelmsford’s troops were defeated by a Zulu force under King Cetshwayo.
In Ladysmith you can still see several building dating back to the war. In
the immediate vicinity, you will also find Elandslaagte and Spioenkop, the
acre of massacre. In an attempt to relieve the beleaguered town of
Ladysmith, Lieut-Gen Sir Charles Warren and his men attempted to capture the
hill by surprise under the cover of darkness. His decision was
ill-considered. It was only when the sun broke through the mist on the
morning of Jan 24 1900 that the British could see the deathtrap they were
in. A total of 322 soldiers were killed, 563 wounded and 300 either missing
or taken prisoner.
A self-guided trail takes you through each stage of the famous battle, past
the main British trench, to the Imperial Light Infantry Memorial, and then
along the northern crest towards the sombre Boer Memorial.
Anyone who knows a little history will feel the hairs on
their neck rise at the mention of the fateful battle which took place at the
foot of the Sphinx-like mountain named Isandlwana. On Jan 22, 1879, the
central column of Chelmsford’s invading army, which had been split in half
by a brilliantly executed
decoy Zulu commanders, was attacked at Isandlwana by the cream of King
Cetshwayo’s warriors. The result was devastating. A total of 13 00 British
soldiers were massacred by 28 000 Zulus in one of their worst ever defeats.
Cairns mark the places where the soldiers fell and were later buried.
On the 16th December 1838 some 15 000 Zulus are believed to have
attacked 464 trekkers at Blood River. The Boers however, fought back
claiming 3000 casualties. So great was the carnage that the river ran red
with blood, which inspired the name of the battle. Replica bronze wagons
are set in a laager on the battlesite. There is a monument paying tribute to
the Zulu army across the river.
In close range of this vicinity tourists can also visit Isandlwana, Rorke’s
Drift, Fugitives’ Drift, and Blood River Poort and Talana, the first battle
of the Anglo-Boer War. The excellent Talana Museum has qualified guides
willing to take visitors to all the surrounding battlesites.
Regiment on horseback