Legend Of Isandlwana Lives On

18th November 2018.

 

Zulu King Cetshwayo had been pushed into a war that he never wanted with England. Yet, the first battle of that conflict had the unlikeliest of outcomes, writes Dougie Oakes.

Cape Town – The mood of the congregation was sombre as Bishop John William Colenso stepped up to the pulpit of the Anglican Church in Bishopstowe in the colony of Natal – and started speaking…

Those who expected a sermon full of fire and brimstone were wrong. There were no calls for retribution against the Zulu king, Cetshwayo. There was no finger-pointing (at the Zulu people). And there were no predictions of doom and gloom.

There were deep expressions of sorrow, of course – but what Colenso said was peppered with nuggets of good sense: “We ourselves have lost very many precious lives, and widows and orphans, parents, brothers, sisters, friends are mourning bitterly their sad bereavements,” he said. “But are there no griefs – no relatives that mourn their dead – in Zululand? And shall we kill 10 000 more to avenge the losses of that dreadful day?”

It was March 1879 – and a mixture of anguish and anger was sweeping through the white communities of Natal.

Just a few weeks earlier, Cetshwayo had been pushed into a war that he never wanted with England. Yet, the first battle of that conflict, on January 22, 1879, on a hillside near a towering rock known to local people as Isandlwana, had the unlikeliest of outcomes…

Isandlwana was aptly described as a fight in which “a proletariat army from the world’s foremost capitalist nation was defeated by a part-time force of peasant farmers in a short, bloody and eventually inconclusive battle that rocked the British Empire to its core”.

“The Zulus attacked the red-coated British because they feared for their land and their independence. The British soldiers, drawn from the very poorest level of the working classes, fought back because they had been lured, like Private Moss from Wales, to take the Queen’s shilling’.”

It was a contest between spear and the most modern weaponry of the day, but thanks to a mixture of British arrogance, stupidity and bad planning, it was those who fought with spears who were victorious.

More than 1 500 redcoats, and an even greater number of Zulu fighters, died in the battle.

Cetshwayo was no one’s fool. It had taken a bruising battle – which had later escalated into a civil war – against his brother, Mbuyazi, for him to become the main contender to succeed his father, Mpande, as monarch of the Zulu kingdom.

When he became king in 1872, following the death of Mpande, he was keen to build a good relationship with the British administration in Natal. But he refused to be told how to run his kingdom. He needed to tread a fine line, and in this he succeeded admirably.

But then diamonds were discovered – and matters changed inexorably.

British colonial secretary Lord Carnarvon decided the best way to administer a southern Africa with far greater economic possibilities, but with a growing need for cheap labour, was via “confederation”.

By this he meant a region in which Briton, Boer and every African chiefdom would operate with some independence, under the control of England.

Although it was obvious that Cetshwayo would never agree to such an arrangement, Lord Carnarvon decided that there were many ways to skin a cat.

He left it to his most enthusiastic supporter, his Natal wheeler-dealer, Theophilus Shepstone, to decide how – and when – to bring this about.

Shepstone opted for the tried-and-tested: pick a fight with Cetshwayo and defeat him, using superior weaponry.

The British High Commissioner, Sir Henry Bartle Frere, set the ball rolling by pretending a number of minor border incidents were major threats to the security of Natal. The tipping point came when the sons of a Zulu chief seized two of their father’s adulterous wives in Natal, dragged them into Zululand, and killed them.

Cetshwayo was given an ultimatum: hand over the sons, pay 500 cattle in compensation, and disband his army and his age-group system of military organisation – within 20 days.

There was no way he could comply. All he could do was insist that “the king has, however, declared, and still declares that he will not commence war, but will wait till he is actually attacked before he enters on a defensive campaign”.

In January 1879, British forces entered Zululand – and on January 22 came the shock of Isandlwana.

As Cetshwayo feared, Zulu losses at Isandlwana and, on the same day, at nearby Rorke’s Drift were horrific. And as the weeks passed, casualties mounted at an alarming rate, with serious losses at Kambula and Gingindlovu especially.

Then, on July 4, the redcoats attacked the royal headquarters at Ulundi, razing it and forcing Cetshwayo to flee.

On August 28, he was captured in the Ngome Forest and sent to Cape Town, where he was held at The Castle, while the Zulu kingdom was”dismembered” into 13 parts, each of which was put under the control of pliant chiefs.

A striking figure, Cetshwayo handled himself with great dignity, refusing to be regarded as a curiosity and insisting that he be given European clothes to wear while in Cape Town. Many people who saw him commented that he was not the overgrown ogre painted by colonial officials.

Although he couldn’t read and write, he displayed a remarkable grasp of local, national and international politics. In this he was assisted by Bishop Colenso and his social activist daughter, Harriette.

Cetshwayo fought with dogged persistence to win back his freedom – and the kingdom of Zululand. In this regard, his key weapon was a letter-writing campaign that drew in prominent officials and even the monarch of England, Queen Victoria.

In March 1881, in a letter written from The Castle to Sir Hercules Robinson, the governor of the Cape Colony, he wrote: “I have done you no wrong, therefore you must have some other object in view to invading my land.

“How is it,” he asked, alluding to the fact that Shepstone had backed his ascension to the Zulu throne, “that they crown me in the morning and dethrone me in the afternoon.”

Cetshwayo’s persistence earned him a trip to England to state his case.

There, he impressed as many parliamentarians and ordinary people as he did in Cape Town.

He was freed in July 1883, but his return to Natal sparked a war with his main rival, Zibhebhu. Forced to flee his territory, he sought refuge with the British Resident Commissioner in Eshowe, where he died in 1884.

Cape Times

SA Tourism Services Association
Frequently Asked Questions For Tourists Travelling To SA [PDF 2MB]
call to action buttons

CEO’S Spring Message: Heritage & Tourism Month

 ccb ceo springmsg sep2019 00 240x300

On 22/23 September, the Southern Hemisphere officially heralds Spring. In geographical terms, Spring is the time of equinox which means the day and night is of the same length!  In the Cape, it is the season of magic and wonder!

Well, as South Africans, we make the most of the most beautiful season of the year. September is Tourism and Heritage Month, and South Africans also celebrate a host of other nature- and societal days during this time of rejuvenation, revival, growth, and hope.

The theme for this year’s World Tourism Day is “Tourism and jobs – a better future for all” whilst heritage month’s is: “Celebrating South Africa’s literary classics in the year of indigenous languages”.  What better place to celebrate both months at South Africa’s oldest surviving building – the 352-year old Castle of Good Hope.  Access to the Castle if free on the 24th of September 2019.  Come with your family, friends and picnic baskets – and remember the flat shoes!

ccb ceo springmsg sep2019 01

The Gardens to the left of the main entrance of the Castle.

Ode To The Most Beautiful Season

There is something so sublime about an African Spring that it is simply not possible to capture it graphically. But let me give it a try to describe what we experience at the Castle these days:

Spring seems to put a spring in every creature’s step; the Castle of Good Hope and surrounding a case in point. In the Castle moat, which is fed from the Camissa River in Table Mountain, the flock of black cormorants give the fish a hard time. Their feeding frenzy seems like a strategy to make up for the long, hard winter behind them. The wily old Night Heron with his long neck is trying hard to out-fish them but fails to match their angling skills. The coots glide over the fallen leaves from the papyrus plants on the dam; scooping up the abundant insects and other tiny morsels and preparing for the new chicklets’ arrival.

The happy chirps of the mating weavers, sparrows and starling are only drowned out by the shrill screams of the assertive hadedas and peckish gulls.  The awakening of every bloom and leaf the perfect canvas for these unfolding theatrics.

But it is the majestic Egyptian goose that rules the Castle. We are eagerly anticipating their colonisation of our lawns with their large batches of tweeting goslings! And not even the lone Castle barn-owl or stray cat would dare to come close to their brood.

ccb ceo springmsg sep2019 02
Bees in the Aloe flowers,
Restitution Garden,
top of Leerdam.
  ccb ceo springmsg sep2019 03
Night Heron relaxing on one
of the steel cages protecting
young fish in the Moat.

Season Highlights: Major Events

Now back to Heritage and Tourism Months.  Besides the complimentary tours, firing of a real cannon, four museums, exhibitions, expect a bevy of events, festivities, gathering and celebrations for the rest of Spring.  For our tourists, we have just re-instituted the Ghost Tours, sleep-outs and much more.

These are some of the cultural, lifestyle and heritage events we are proudly hosting over the next couple of weeks:

  • Integrated Conservation Management Plan Stakeholder Meeting, 1 October 2019
  • Justice for Imam Haron outdoor exhibition, October/November 2019
  • Big League 3rd Anniversary Concert, 5 October 2019
  • Ceramics SA Exhibition, 7 – 10 October 2019
  • Open Design Africa, 18 – 22 October 2019
  • Unathi Msengana’s Picnic Concert, 19 October 2019
  • Kings of the Castle Boxing Tournament, 26 October 2019
  • Secret Sunset Event, 31 October 2019
  • Doek on Fleek Outdoor Picnic, 2 November 2019
  • Infecting the City, 23-24 November 2019
  • Harley Davidson Lifestyle Centre, 30 November to 1 December 2019

Disclaimer: Information is correct as on 23 September 2019. Patrons are kindly requested to verify events details and changes on our website or from the organisers.

Best Regards


There is currently an open RFQ for the Castle Control Board.

Click HERE to view the SCM page.


 

ccb ICMP button

Latest Events

To see the latest upcoming events at the Castle of Good Hope, click on a day or the month title to display the event(s).

November 2019
S M T W T F S
1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Key Ceremony

TIMES
10:00|12:00 

This showcases the unlocking of the Van der Stel entrance of the Castle of Good Hope by the ceremonial guards of the castle. It is a past practice that is still practised today.

Canon Firing

TIMES
10:00|11:00|12:00 

The firing of the signal cannon was used to indicate that a ship had been sighted at sea and to relay the message to people inside the fort. You can view the firing of an old cannon, performed by the Cannon Association of South Africa.

Guided Tours

TIMES
11:00|12:00|14:00|15:00|16:00 

Unearth the hidden history of the Castle with a guided tour led by an experienced guide. Tours operate seven days a week.

 

Go to top