November 2022: AZW Battlefield Sites Report

Caption: November 2022 AZW Tour Group. Kate Birbeck is at top rigth next to monument.

I’ve just got back from leading a two-week tour of the historic sites on behalf of The Cultural Experience. It was a delight to be back, although we found ourselves at the start of the rainy season and, much as Chelmsford’s troops in 1879, trying to dodge the downpours. There’s no doubt that Covid has had a devastating effect on South Africa’s tourist industries, and we were forced to change our usual itinerary to take account of the fact several old-favourite stop-overs were no longer available. Generally the country did look rather tired, with ‘load-shedding’ (power cuts) a daily occurrence and clearly few resources spent on road maintenance. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the places we did stay, it was fantastic to re-visit all the old battlefields, and a particular experience to see iSandlwana under brooding skies; so here’s to the intrepid group who came with me, and to the next TCE trip in 2024! One of my group, Kate Birbeck – a regular on the battlefields – has prepared a brief outline of her impression of the sites which, I think, serves as a resume of the current state of play –

Coastal Column

1/ Fort Pearson is just the same thought the fibreglass relief at the viewpoint is in a very sorry condition with trees blocking the view and is barely readable. Some of the information boards at the covered shelter on the way up to the fort have fallen off.

Fort Pearson Graveyard
2/ The graveyard is slightly overgrown. All of the metal crosses to unknown soldiers were still in place. I cleared Warren Wynne's grave of weeds.

3/ The area around the ultimatum tree including the 'new' tree is still intact despite the floods.

4/ Gingindhlovu no change apart from the long grass in the graveyard. The sugar beet had just been cut giving a good view.

5/ Nyezane. the two memorials (old British and new marble Zulu) are completely overgrown and initially we thought they had been removed but they are covered with dense bush over 6 feet tall. There is a lot of change on Pearson's firing line with a new fenced enclosure being erected. No change on Wombane.

Eshowe graveyard
6/ Fort Eshowe is looking very sorry for itself. There is a lot of rubbish strewn about and it is becoming more and more enclosed by new houses. The graveyard was overgrown and it looked like someone had used a blow torch to burn off the details from the metal crosses. Some were untouched which I recorded. Thankfully Coker's grave was still intact and undamaged as is the large memorial by the gate listing all of the names.

No 3 Column

1/ The grave and memorial area around the nek at iSandlwana is still in nice condition and there was a chap there spraying the colonial area with weed killer. There is no further evidence of any building work of the Kings new palace/education centre that was supposed to have been built on the firing line. The memorial garden that was used for the 2019 140th has completely disappeared. Apparently, everything 'disappeared' the day after the ceremony.

2/ No change along the Fugitives Trail though apparently some of the cairns have been disturbed and those at Anstey's last stand had pieces of bone protruding from the sides. We were at Anstey's on the 11th at the 11th hour and had our minutes silence by the cairns which was very moving. Macelroy's stone is still in place though surrounded by dense bush.

3/ There appears to be a lot more new houses that have been built up to the fence line on the battlefield and also around the foot of aMatutshane.

4/ The Zulu memorial hut by St Vincent’s containing the bones of an unknown Zulu has been completely trashed. The door is smashed in and it was set on fire. This is really tragic and surprising. One would understand it if it were a memorial to the British but, with their deep believe in ancestor worship, I thought it would remain untouched. The little museum is still open though the shop is virtually empty. I did pick up a copy of Anthony Colemans new book 'Ukubuza' there. What is really sad is the little tea hut that I have visited on many an occasion for a refreshing brew after a hot day on the battlefield has gone.

4/ The Mzinyathi was really full and fast flowing. I’ve never seen it so high and there was water in the Manzimyama. Normally I cross it with dry boots.
5/ No change at Rorke's Drift mission station. There was a very lively funeral taking place at the church and as the coffin was carried out there was the sound of firearms being disharged into the air. A bit un nerving.

No 4 Column

The graves of Campbell and Lloyd at Hlobane with the toppled Zulu memorial behind
1/ Campbell and Lloyds grave on Hlobane was overgrown with weeds but the headstones were still intact. The new marble Zulu shield memorial had been broken in two with the shield lying flat. Buller's track up Hlobane has been repaired and is easy going underfoot which is good to see. Also there was a more relaxed vibe to the whole area. On the previous occasions I have been up on Hlobane there has been a tense atmosphere amongst the locals.

2/ Kambula. In the fort area the stone information panel has been pulled off its plinth with the text facing down and is cracked. The memorial area is in good condition.

Other sites memorials

1/ Cotter and Scott Douglas's stones are still in nice condition and we cleared the weeds that were starting to grow up around the stones. The area around is surprisingly different with all the trees being felled down in the valley where they were killed. It is a logging site.

King Cetshwayo’s grave
2/ King Cetshwayo's grave no change though we were not met by the usual old lady with the book to sign. The stone marking where he passed away is also still there.

3/ The Ulundi battlefield is looking unkempt with a lot of rubbish strewn around and more development enclosing the battlefield. There was also a lot of drunk locals pestering us whilst in the memorial area.

4/ Meyer's Drift at Ntombe was unchanged with the memorials in a similar condition since my last visit.

The 80th memorial at Ntombe battlefield
5/ There is a lot of new development at the Luneburg mission site and Fort Clery is very overgrown. The stones in the graveyard including Moriarty's stone are in good condition.

6/ The memorial to Filter, once surrounded by trees, now stands in an open area as the trees have been felled. Part of the English script tablet has been broken.

Original memorial to Prince Imperial now gathered with other broken stones at oNdini
7/ The Prince Imperial site is slightly bizarre. There is a fenced picnic area with green stone tables by the entrance and a strange porch area, as well as a new style park bench by his grave. However, in a separate enclosure is a new memorial to the Zulu scout who was killed alongside a cairn which I had not seen before.

The current state of King Cetshwayo’s hit at oNdini, awaiting re-thatching and cleaning
8/ At oNdini the Kings hut is being repaired and was devoid of its thatch. By the entrance is an area containing broken memorial stones from different battlefields, including the original cross from the Prince Imperials site (now in three pieces), the marble shield from Nyzene and a broken stone from Nandi's grave.

9/ No change at Conference Hill and Koppie Alleen.

On the whole I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of change. I appreciate the sites may have been visited by those living in SA during the pandemic but with the absences of international visitors thought they may have suffered more damage than was evident.