Battlefields Route, KwaZulu-Natal
The Battlefields Route covers the world-renowned KwaZulu-Natal battlefields where many bloody wars were fought by Zulus, Boers and the British. At various times throughout the 19th century Zulu fought Boer, Boer fought British and Zulu fought British. Thousands of young soldiers, settlers and warriors lost their lives during this turbulent period as these nations battled to control the land.
The first people to inhabit this beautiful land were the hunter-gatherer Bushmen. They were displaced by the Bantu from the north and the Bushman were forced to retreat to the Drakensberg Mountains to the west where they left us the best and most prolific rock art in the world in the World Heritage Site of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park. The British and the Boers arrived in the 19th century but the Zulus, unlike the Bushman, did not give up their land easily. Under the leadership of the great Zulu Kings, Shaka, Chetswayo and Dingane, the British and the Boers fought many bloody battles firstly with the Zulus and then with each other.
In order to escape British rule in the Cape Colony, the Voortrekkers migrated north and ended up in this region of Natal in 1838. Under King Shaka the Zulu nation had been moulded into a disciplined and formidable fighting force and his son Dingane met with the Voortrekkers in the royal capital of Mgungundlovu ostensibly to negotiate with Piet Retief, the leader of the Voortrekkers. Instead they slaughtered 101 Boers. The Boers vowed revenge and later in the same year 460 Voortrekkers defeated the Zulu army at the Battle of Blood River.
The Langalibalele Rebellion took place in 1873 between the colonial forces and the amaHlubi tribe when they refused to register their firearms that had been given to them in lieu of wages. Under the leadership of Langalibalele they attempted to escape over the Bushman’s Pass into Lesotho. They were caught by the Colonial Forces under Lord Durnford and after a battle, Langalibalele was captured and imprisoned on Robben Island.
Under King Chetshwayo, the Zulu nation had gained in strength and the British Colonists, fearful of their power, gave them an ultimatum designed to start a war because they made it impossible for the Zulus to comply. This backfired on them and in the bloodiest battle of all 20,000 Zulus overran and largely massacred 1700 British troops at the Battle of Isandlwana. Later, on the same day a heroic 100 colonial soldiers repelled a 4000 strong Zulu attack at Rorke’s Drift. The Zulus finally surrendered at the Battle of Ulundi in 1879.
The Transvaal War of Independence started in 1880 when the Boers failed to negotiate the Independence of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (Transvaal). This culminated in the famous battle at Majuba Hill. An armistice was signed in 1881.
After simmering Boer discontent, the Anglo-Boer War followed in 1899 when the Boers attempted to alter the voting rights of foreigners in the Transvaal during the gold rush. The foreigners protested and war broke out between the British and the Boers of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek and the Orange Free State. Some of the major battles took place in Natal, the most famous of which was the 118 day siege of Ladysmith and the massive battle at Thukela Heights. The tapestry of the conflict is rich with the names of men who went to war in South Africa – Winston Churchill, Mohandas Gandhi, Jan Smuts, Robert Baden-Powell, Louis Botha, Deneys Reitz, Redvers Buller, Lord Kitchener, Lord Roberts, Piet Joubert and Christiaan de Wet.
The Bhambata Rebellion, often referred to as the first anti-apartheid action, took place in 1906 when the British tried to impose a poll tax on the Zondi tribe. 575 tribe members were killed and Bhambatha was decapitated.
The Battlefields Route is about appreciating and understanding the war history of this fascinating region but there are many other reasons for visitors to spend some serious time here – within this same area, or close by, are some of the best game parks and nature reserves in the country where you can see the Big Five, fantastic bird watching areas, the magnificent mountains of the Ukahlamba-Drakensberg Park.
We recommend that you plan your trip carefully and that you employ the services of a recognized guide.
Contacts: for guides – tel: +27 (0)72 271 1766 Email
More information on the Battlefields Region
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