Auctioned Zulu shield, knobkerrie coming to KZN

2014-01-24 00:00

A ZULU shield that saw action at the battle of Isandlwana and an executioner’s knobkerrie, two of the prize items in an auction of Zulu artefacts held in Britain this week, will be coming back to KwaZulu-Natal.

A superb collection of over 150 historic Zulu artefacts was auctioned on Wednesday, January 22, the 135th anniversary of the battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift fought in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.

The collection belonged to David Smith, a former Royal Marine who died in 2009, and was auctioned by Wallis and Wallis in Lewes, East Sussex. Smith’s partner and co-collector Roberta Welham put the collection up for sale.

There was a “perfect bidding storm” said Ian Knight, Anglo-Zulu War historian and adviser to the auctioneers.

“The room was packed, there were television news cameras there and at times there were four separate telephone bids, plus room bids, plus Internet bids for the same lots.”

Several items went for 10 times the sales estimates and the total sale figure, £95 485 (R1,71 million), was just short of the estimated £100 000 (R1,8 million).

Knight said that the shared history between KwaZulu-Natal and Britain, along with the film Zulu, has become “part of British popular consciousness”.

“It’s clear that a lot of artefacts relating to the war have been treasured over the years in Britain and have therefore survived. It’s exciting to think what more might still be out there in family attics or private collections.”

The Zulu shield from 1879 and the knobkerrie thought to have been used for executions were two of the choicest items on the sale and Carol Slater, a senior manager in the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture, successfully bid for both. The shield went for £5 000 (R90 000) and the knobkerrie for £2 100 (R37 000).

Slater spent around R270 000 on behalf of the department and was the successful bidder for a number of other items, including necklaces, spears, staffs and a collection of sweat scrapers. “It is a bit like the Elgin Marbles where people want them to come back to where they belong,” Slater is reported as saying. “There is a sense that they should not be out of the country; there is a sense of bringing them home, to where they belong.”

It is believed the items will be displayed in a new museum to be built near the battlefield at Isandlwana.

A re-enactment of the battle will take place at Isandlwana tomorrow. Though it has yet to be confirmed, President Jacob Zuma and King Goodwill Zwelethini are said to be attending the event.

Today, in a traditional tribute, Zulu regiments (amabutho) will walk the battlefield to pay homage to the fallen and various traditional war rituals will be carried out. Tomorrow, the Dundee Diehards, in the role of British redcoat re-enators, together with local Zulu amabutho will re-enact the battle.

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