We shall remember them too

2010-01-22 00:00

ONE hundred and thirty-one years ago today at the battle of Isandlwana, the Zulu army annilihated a British force that had earlier invaded Zululand.

The Zulu victory over the nearly 1 700- strong force comprising seasoned British troops, as well as colonial regiments and African auxiliaries was achieved at great cost: “An assegai has been thrust into the belly of the nation, there are not enough tears to mourn for the dead,” King Cetshwayo ka Mpande is reported to have said on hearing of the number of casualties.

While the British dead numbered just over 1 300 it is impossible to arrive at a precise figure for the Zulu dead as the Zulus did not compile casualty lists. Various British estimates at the time gave a figure as high as 3 000, but it is now thought that 1 000 is a more reliable figure, while many more would have been wounded.

If you visit the battlefield of Isandlwana you will find several monuments to the British dead erected by their regiments, British and colonial, each bearing the names of men who died on the day. No such equivalents exist for the Zulus.

In a bid to repair this omission, a memorial to the Zulu dead was unveiled in 1999, the 120th anniversary of the battle.

The monument, designed by Pietermaritzburg sculptor Gert Swart, is based around a central motif featuring the iziqu or necklace of valour.

Those who had performed heroically in battle were awarded thin willow sticks. Once their bravery had been publicly acknowledged they were entitled to cut the sticks into small blocks to thread as necklaces known as iziqu.

“But there is no memorial honouring the Zulu side with the names of those who participated,” says Bongani Mdunge, Amafa liaison officer with the traditional authorities.

“Although there is the memorial unveiled in 1999, the public complain that there are no names on it,” says Mdunge.

In a bid to remedy the situation Amafa has launched a project to find the names of the Zulu dead.“We plan to erect a memorial with the names.”

Mdunge is appealing to the public to furnish names of ancestors who perished in the battle and, if possible, which amabutho (regiment) they fought in. It is known the following amabutho were involved in the battle: uThulwana, iNdluyengwe, iNdlonlo, uDloko, uDududu, iSangqui, iMbube, uNokhenke, uKhandempemvu (also known as the uMcijo), uMbonambi, iNgobamakhosi and uVe, plus some companies of the uMxhapho.

So far, the project has been publicised through the Zulu-language newpapers Ilanga and Isolezwe. “I have also appealed to traditional authorities and made appeals to amakhosi,” says Mdunge

Some have said that as the event took place so long ago it is unlikely that many names will be forthcoming, but Mdunge believes that a culture with such a strong oral tradition, like the Zulu, names of those who fought at such a famous battle will have been handed down as part of family tradition.

• If you would like to put forward a name you can contact Bongani Mdunge at the Amafa office in Ulundi at 035 870 2050/1/2; fax: 035 870 2054 or 083 771 8937. Or you can write to him at P. O. Box 523, Ulundi, 3838.

IN the late 1870s, the Zulu kingdom was regarded as a threat to British expansion in southern Africa. A policy of confederation had already seen the British annex the Transvaal in 1877, the subjugation of the Zulu kingdom was the next item on the agenda.

On December 11, 1878, a British delegation met their Zulu counterparts on the banks of the lower Thukela. After delivering the findings of a commission into a boundary dispute between the Zulus and the Boers, the Zulu delegation was presented with an ultimatum that included the abolition of the Zulu regimental system, as well as others that undermined the authority of the king. As intended, the demands were impossible to meet. War was inevitable.

On January 11, 1879, the British invaded Zululand in three columns. King Cetshwayo ka Mpande told his commanders they were to drive the British back into Natal but not to follow them there. “It is the whites who have come to fight me in my own country,” he said, “and not I that go to fight with them. My intention is only to defend myself in my own country.”

On January 22, a British force was all but annilihated by a Zulu army at the battle of Isandlwana. However, Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande disobeyed the king’s orders and crossed into Natal to attack the British post at Rorke’s Drift where he was repelled. Another British column found itself cut off and besieged in Eshowe. After these setbacks the British called for reinforcements and then reinvaded Zululand. After an initial Zulu victory at the battle of Hlobane, the tide turned in the British favour when a Zulu force attacked a British-entrenched position at Kambula and sustained heavy losses. The war came to an end with the British victory at the battle of Ulundi on July 4, close to the royal homestead of Ondini.

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