KwaZulu Natal is filled with the memory of legendary heroics on the part of the Zulu, British and Boers scattered across the land from Ladysmith to Ulundi with two significant battles still seen as being so significant to British forces that their stories are still studied as part of British military training to this day.
The final week of January holds two significant dates in South Africa’s history.
January 22-23rd 1879 commemorates the now legendary defeat of the British by the Zulu’s at the battle of Isandhlwana and the heroic stand-off by the men at Rorke’s Drift who managed to fend off the Zulu warriors from the tiny outpost just a few miles upstream. To the Empire, this almost insignificant victory at Rorke’s Drift – in comparison to the disaster they had suffered at Isandhlwana – spurned on the British forces to push through to Ulundi and eventually defeat King Cetswayo.
Coincidentally the 23-24th January 1900 also commemorates another historic loss for British forces when Boer Commandos pinned down the ill-fated British regiments in what became known as the scene of the most futile and bloodiest of the four battles fought to relieve the besieged town of Ladysmith. Pinned down with no way of digging trenches, the preferred method at the time, 2000 men found themselves cut off and in a hopeless position atop Spionkop as expert Boer snipers picked them off and Pom-Pom shells pounded their position.
News of the Spionkop defeat resonated hardest back home in the northern towns of England where many of the British soldiers were from. The event left an indelible impression on one specific journalist who, whilst reporting on the building of a new football stadium in the north of England – the defeat still fresh in everyone’s mind – immediately likened the new football stand to the ill-fated Spionkop ridge….and so the newly built ground at Anfield gained its now-famous Kop end as a memorial to the men who fell at Spionkop.
KwaZulu Natal has many a tale to tell and a journey through these hills will reveal bravery and tragedy and unravel the history behind South Africa’s difficult past. Yet to tread in the path of these men brings hope, reconciliation and respect for all those who fought and fell here.