South African Military 
History Society


May 2006

This month's talks were about aspects of the Bhambatha rebellion. The DDH was by Brian Thomas: "A DCM won at the Battle of Mpanza, 4 April 1906."

Charles William Guest won this medal for his great courage in rescuing a fallen trooper who otherwise would certainly have been killed. Brian gave the background of the various awards that existed in the British army, and then he described the life of Charles Guest in Natal.

Until the Crimean War there is no award for gallantry, so Queen Victoria instituted the Victoria Cross in 1856. A table of awards between 1860 and 1900 showed that many had been for service in South Africa. The award of the DCM in Natal is very rare, and certainly for 1906. (The action of Charles Guest is very close to that of Redvers Buller which earned him a Victoria Cross at Hlobane in 1879.)

Charles Guest came to South Africa in 1899 to fight in the Anglo Boer War. He received the service medal and clasps, serving until 1902. He joined the Natal Police in 1903, and was part of aforce of 150 police deployed to Keate's Drift (where the road from Greytown to Dundee crosses the Mooi River). Their task was to rescue three women who had been at the Mpanza hotel and bring them back to Pietermaritzburg. The troopers moved out in teh late afternoon, and were ambushed in teh dark at Ambush Rock, which is close to Mpanza. Four policemen were killed. It was here that Charles Guest earned his DCM and was mentioned in Dispatches.

He left the police after this incident and farmed until 1930, and he died in 1961. His son, Harry Guest, fought in World War 2, won a Military Medal in Abyssinia, and a bar to his MM in Italy: a very rare award.

At the military enquiry into the detahs at Mpanza, Col Mansel was criticized for two actions: returning by the same route that he had used to go out (there was an alternate route via Muden); moving after dark, which was not necessary (he could have waited till morning).

The main talk of the Evening was by Ken Gillings: "The Bhambatha Rebellion, the 100th Anniversary".

Because of the general interest in this topic, Ken has supplied a two-page summary of the actions of 1906, which is attached. What follows here is a commentary on some of the highlights of Ken's presentation. He illustrated the talk with wonderful pictures: black and white "yesterdays" from 1906, next to coloured "todays". We saw beautiful huts of Dinizulu's homestead; the onlookers watching the execution of 12 Zulus at Richmond, and the same site on the Richmond common today.

We saw the burnt out remians of what was Marshall's Mpanza Hotel, destroyed in 2005 - a sad end to a delightful Victorian building (whose picture from 1900 Brian Thomas had shown us). Close by is Ambush Rock, and we saw the site where Police Sergeant Brown's mutilated body was found. His lips, genitals, and flesh o fhis right forearm had been sliced off. (It was this mutilation of his body that almost certainly caused troops to have the attitude: 'no quarter given"; "kill them all";"no mercy, no prisoners". The gutting of dead British troops at Isandlwana in 1879 produced the same response at Kambula and Ulundi - all shall die, no wounded, no prisoners.)

The ambush of the police at Mpanza occurred on 4 April 1906; the colonial regiments were now called up; and by the beginning of June the troops with the NFA guns were in camp near Nkandla at Nomangci (where the trench lines are still visible). The terrain is rugged, with narrow gorges that have steep, near vertical sides. This was ideal country for guerrilla warfare and as such a nightmare for conventional forces. There was a 1906 picture of troops hauling their guns up a hill, and alongside, the same grass-covered hillside as it is today. The forest was formidable, and remains so, but the invading cromalina weed is now slowly destroying it.

On 9 June 1906, the rebels had gathered at the entrance to the Mome gorge below the Nkandla forest. At first light on 10th June the troops attacked, with the NFA firing shrapnel. Over 500 of Bhambatha's followers were slaughtered. Their shattered remains, with arms, legs, and heads blown away, were left to lie (which we saw pictures of) and their bones are still visible today.

Bhambatha was killed. His head was removed, displayed at Nkandla for all to see (and be photographed) and kept in a tent under the guard of the DLI. The head was the returned with the body to Mome gorge, where it was buried. (We saw the site as it is today). There exists a 1925 photo of a skull mounted on a plaque that is said to be that of Bhambatha!

To confuse things further, Ken received documents in 2002 describing the wounds to Bhambatha, but the critical photo was missing. A sample of hair was enclosed, and its DNA was compared to the samples from two granddaughters of Bhambatha. Sad to say, the test was inconclusive. There still remains the myth that Bhambatha escaped to "Portuguese"!

The slaughter at Mome Gorge was not the end of the rebellion, and during 1906 the Colonial troops fought a series of actions in the Tugela-Stanger-Mhapamula area that finally crushed the resistance. Dinizulu was arrested and charged with complicity in the rebellion. In March 1909 he received a sentence of 4 years.

When the Union was formed in 1910, Louis Botha, the then Prime Minister, had Dinizulu released, and gave to him a farm near Middelburg. He died there in 1913. We saw a young Shezi who will one day be the new custodian of the King's grave.

There remains one amazing person: Sigananda Shezi. When finally capture in the forest, he was 96 years old, he had fought against the British in the Zulu War of 1879, and was present when Piet Retief was murdered in 1838. Sadly he died within a week of being captured and being held a prisoner at Nkandla. His followers accused the British troops of poisoning him.

Vote of Thanks

Phil Everitt thanked the speakers for making this a truly wonderful evening; their careful research, meticulous attention to detail, the excellent illustrations; and, especially for Ken, the fascinating "yesterday and today" views of the battlefields of 1906. It is true to say that the audience was in awe of what they saw and heard this evening from our two speakers.


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The Annual Battlefield Tour

There was an earlier announcement that the Annual Battlefield Tour would take place in May 2006 Due to an unavoidable clash of dates and availability this has been changed to the 1st weekend in AUGUST, being the 5/6th AUGUST. Please make a note in your diaries for this important change in dates The tour this year will be on BULLERS ADVANCE FROM LADYSMITH, and will cover the battles at HELPMEKAAR, BOTHA'S PASS and ALLEMANSNEK. More details will be given in future newsletters, but KEN GILLINGS is planning to get 2 teams from our members to consider the problems faced by both BOER and BRITISH forces The aim is to have a great fun weekend, with very little preparation, in order to have reactions to the reality of those events. Those wishing to take part should contact KEN GILLINGS on 083-654-5880 or 031 J024828.

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11 May 06
DDH - Maj. Gen. Chris Le Roux - Political Scandals
MAIN - Brian Kennedy - The English Civil War in Ireland
15 June 06
DDH - a n other - to be confirmed
MAIN - Jimmy Alberts/Peter Spiller - Bridge 14
13 July 06
DDH - Captain Brian Hoffman - Naval Traditions
MAIN - Bill Brady - Operation Sealion


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Subscriptions for 2006 are now due. Membership has been increased by R10, to R140 per year for Single membership, and R160 for Family Membership (for a maximum of 2 members of the same family). Please send your subscription ASAP to Joan Marsh in Johannesburg, or directly into the Society Account at FNB Bank, Park Meadows Branch, No 50391928346, Branch code, 25-66-55, Name: South African Military History Society.

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Some Committee contact details
Mike Laing 031-205-1951
Phil Everiff 031-261 5751 (after hours)
Adrian van Schaik 082-894-8122 (after hours)
Bill Brady 031-561-5542 or 0832285485
Ken Gillings 083-654-5880

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Important Correction

The numbering of the newsletters has gone wrong. Please note the following corrections.

Newsletter 362, November 2005; George Patton, and Durban should read: 363, January 2006.
Newsletter 363, January 2006; Crimean War, Vjcksbur~~ should read: 364, February 2006.
Newsletter 364, February 2006; Border, Tobruk; should read 365, March 2006.
Newsletter 365, March 2006; POW, 15 Squadron; should read 366, April 2006.

The next Newsletter (i.e. this one) correctly reads No 367, May 2006. You will not receive a hard copy Newsletter dated No. 366, April 2006.

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The Natal / Zulu / Bhambatha Rebellion broke out as a result of a decision of the Colonial Government to impose a poll tax of one Pound on all residents over the age of 18 years, in an attempt to reimburse a somewhat depleted Treasury during the depression which followed the Anglo-Boer War.

The Black population of the Colony in particular resented the move, which they considered to be unjust in view of the huge differences between their earnings and those of the Whites of the Colony. There were other factors as well, such as the allocation of farms to Whites, White and Indian immigration, and severe restrictive measures being forced upon Blacks.

When the time came for the implementation of the poll tax, many of the Black trihesmen of the Colony refused to pay, and the bubble of discontent burst when some Natal Policemen were attacked on the farm Trewirgie, near Baynesfield. The tribesmen who were involved in the attack were located and executed, leading to intervention from Britain. Soon, there were sporadic outbreaks of unrest and Martial Law was proclaimed. Colonial troops were mobilised and volunteers from the Transvaal arrived to participate.

An influential chief from the Mpanza valley near Greytown, Bhambatha Zondi, faced by a revolt within his tribe, became embroiled in the issue and was deposed by the Natal Government for being in league with the dissidents. He fled to King Dinizulu kaCetshwayo's royal homestead at Usutu, on the banks of the Black Mfolozi River, leaving his wife with the King, and therefore in effect involving him in the rebellion.

On the 4th April, Bhambatha and his rebels ambushed a force of Natal Policemen at Mpanza between Greytown and Keate's Drift, and 4 members were killed. Parts of Sergeant Brown's body were removed and used as ingredients for muthi (special medicine).

Bhambatha's hut was located and fired. He had, however, fled from the area to the umuzi of one of the most influential chiels of the Colony, Sigananda Shezi of the amaCube, who lived above the Mome stream near the Nkandla Forest. Sigananda was also the custodian of King Cetshwayo's grave, whieh was situated nearby.

A genenal call-up of Colonial Regiments then followed, and troops were deployed throughout Northern Natal and Zululand. By then, many of the Colony's tribesmen had broken out in open rebellion against the imposition of the poll tax. Many of the tribes were split in their loyalties, resulting in them being formed into groups of "levies" to fight against their compatriots.

Reports reached Col Duncan McKenzie, who had been appointed Colonel in Chief of all forces that Bhambatha had moved to the Nkandla area, and he established his headquarters near the village bearing the same name. A series of sweeps of the dense Nkandla Forest were made, and for days the Colonial troops searched fruitlessly for the rebels with minimal success. The guns of the Natal Field Artillery were used to shell the forest in an attempt to force Sigananda out, without success. The area of King Cetshwayo's grave was also occupied, which created much resentment amongst the Zulu people.

On the 9th June, McKenzie received reports that Bhambatha's rebels were making their way into the Nkandla forest via the entrance to the Mome gorge, and the troops converged on the entrance after the rebels had arrived and settled down for the night. At first light on the 10th June, the rebels, who had become aware of the existence of the troops and were being prepared to fight by their izinduna, were fired upon from a koppie at the entrance to the gorge, and from either side, forcing them to flee upstream to seek shelter in the pear-shaped Dobo forest, and the Mvalasango forest further along the Mome stream. McKenzie's troops were deployed at strategic positions above and around the gorge, with stopper groups being placed along its sides.

After the first shots were fired, the rebels fled into the Dobo and Myalasango forests, which were swept, the former from top to bottom. No mercy was shown by the troops, who massacred the rebels, some of whom feigned death only to "awake" when their adversaries were upon them. During the downward drive of the Dobo forest, Inspector Fairlie of the Natal Police, fearing that the Nongqai (Natal Native Police) would shoot one another if they overlapped, ordered his bugler to sound the "Assembly", and unintentionally brought the entire operation to a halt, enabling a number of rebels to escape into the Esigqumeni forest, futher upstream.

About 575 rebels were killed in the massacre, while the Colonial forces lost three - one of them, Capt McFarlane, by a stray bullet from one of the troops. Officially, Bhambatha's body was located on the banks of the Mome stream, decapitated and the head taken to Nkandla for identification. Again, officially, it was then returned to the forest and buried with the body, but even to this day, the amaZondi and the amaShezi maintain that the body that was pointed out by Sishukane Zondi was not that of Bhambatha and that he fled to Mozambique.

Furthermore, a photograph appeared in the Nongqai magazine in September 1925, showing a skull mounted on a plaque, proclaiming that it belonged to Bhambatha.

In 2002, however, the writer was sent an envelope from England containing several photographs and documents pertaining to the Rebellion, collected by one Lt Col J H Alexander. A small envelope was marked "Atabmab" (Bambata spelt backwards). It contained some hair, and included a graphic description of Bhambatha's wounds. The document states that the first bullet that struck Bhambatha broke his arm a few inches above the elbow. Bhambatha must have received a second bullet wound in the back, the bullet emerging under the right breast. He was then evidently stabbed by one of Mfungelwa's "levies" "about 2 inches below the right nipple which must have been fatal." The stomach was then ripped open from groin to sternum to allow the spirit to escape, in accordance with Zulu custom.

Although doubt therefore still exists in the minds of many about what really happened to the man who gave his name to the rebellion, the massacre in the Mome Gorge on the lOth June 1906 will be remembered as one of the most tragic episodes in KwaZulu-Natal's military history.

While the battle of Mome Gorge broke the back of the Rebellion, unrest broke out in the Lower Thukela River area at the end of June and in early July 1906, led by several influential amakhosi. These included inkosi Meseni kaMusi Qwabe (a descendant of the brother of Zulu, the founder of the Zulu nation), Mashwili kaMngoya (grandson of Dingiswayo kaJobe) and inkosi Ndlovu kaThimuni Zulu.

Their followers put up a determined resistance during the actions at Macrae's Store (2nd July 1906), Nsuze (2nd July 1906), Mpumulwana (3rd July 1906), Ponjwana (3rd July 1906) and Izinsimba (8th July 1906) but they were unable to match the firepower of the Colonial Forces and by mid-July 1906, the Rebellion had ended.

The Bhambatha Rebellion is considered to be the beginning of the 'armed struggle' by Black South Africans.

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South African Military History Society /