NEWSLETTER No 401
The DDH talk was presented by former chairman Adrian van Schaik on the A & B vehicles used by the South African troops who were part of the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) during the Second World War. A vehicles are those used in contact with the enemy i.e. armoured vehicles while B vehicles are the soft skinned vehicles such as a jeep or truck used to supply ammunition, troops and logistics.
The frightening aspect was that the British armour used was still of First World War vintage and the armour plating was only sufficient to stop a rifle bullet and the guns mounted were 3 pounder's. This was totally inadequate when facing the might of the German Panzer Corp. The British rounds simply bounced off the German tanks. Another problem was the speed and range of the British tanks when compared to the German tanks. The various tanks and armoured cars used were discussed in detail showing their strong and weak points. It was only late in the war that the equipment started to improve and a large influence on this was due to the entry of the Americans into the war with their massive production ability.
The talk then covered the multitude of soft vehicles used and how both sides would use captured vehicles due to the shortage of transport.
The Main Talk was presented by another former chairman Ken Gillings entitled The Zulu Civil War, 1883-1888.
After the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, Zululand was divided up into 13 "kinglets". Some were ruled by insignificant chiefs, many of whom had assisted the British during the War. One, however, was given to one of Zululand's most remarkable personalities, Zibhebhu kaMapita, chief of the Mandlakazi tribe.
Zibhebhu was King Cetshwayo's second cousin. He had supported the acceptance of the terms of the British ultimatum to King Cetshwayo, but had loyally supported him during the War. The remnants of King Cetshwayo's Usuthu faction of the Zulu Royal House had been placed under the authority of the Mandlakazi. These included Ndabuko, Siwedu (the King's brother) and his son, Prince Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo. Fearing that King Cetshwayo would eventually be restored to his position of power, Zibhebhu constantly humiliated Prince Dinuzulu, and reportedly tampered with the King's isigodlo (harem).
At the beginning of 1883, Cetshwayo returned to Zululand, rebuilding his Ondini home close by the previous one. The King's return saw the entire region in a state of chaos, but because he had been stripped of his powers, he was unable to use what influence remained to restore order. Furthermore, Zibhebhu was no longer the King's loyal subject; he had become his most bitter enemy. The result of this division of Zululand was inevitable; in 1883, a vicious civil war broke out, and an 21st July, Zibhebhu attacked Ondini. The King barely escaped with his life, and took refuge in Eshowe where he died on 8th February 1884. The chieftainship of the Usuthu passed to Prince Dinuzulu.
Matters in Zululand became chaotic, and the Boers from the area made the most of them by offering to support Dinuzulu in his struggle against Zibhebhu. On 21st May 1884, at Zaalflaager, near Hlobane, they poured a bottle of castor oil over Prince Dinuzulu's head, and anointed him as king of the Zulus. This action was ridiculed by Zibhebhu but the New Republicans offered to assist Dinuzulu in return for land.
Urged on by Ndabuko, 100 Boers under Louis Botha, Lucas Meyer and some Germans from the Luneburg area, led by Adolph Schiel, advanced on Zibhebhu, joined by some 1000 Usuthu warriors. They followed the course of the Mkuze River, aware that Zibhebhu had taken up a position in the Mkuze River gorge, where it passes through the Lebombo mountains.
Zibhebhu had concealed his Mandlakazi warriors between the slopes of eTshaneni peak and the Mkuze River. Higher up, near the summit, on the southern slope and hidden from view, he had concealed those members of his tribe who had been unable to bear arms. On the north bank, he had hidden his women, children and cattle in the gorge, protected by a spur in the mountains. They were guarded by another section of his force. It was a brilliantly selected position which not only provided cover for his warriors, but also provided him with an escape route via the Mkuze gorge and onto the Makathini flats, should retreat have become necessary. The Usuthu army approached the Mandlakazi ambush on the 5th June 1884, with the Boers and Germans in the rear. As they approached Zibhebhu's trap, a Mandlakazi warrior fired a shot prematurely, giving away their position. This shot almost certainly saved the Boers, because Zibhebhu had ordered his warriors to fire at the horses, effectively immobilising them.
Instantly, the Usuthu moved into its traditional horn formation, but discovered that the topography prevented the encircling movement from taking place. As the right horn swept forward, it met the full onslaught of Zibhebhu's army near the base of eTshaneni on the right. A fierce and bloody battle ensued but it soon became clear that the Mandlakazi had gained the upper hand. Buoyed by their success, the Mandlakazi redoubled their efforts, and the Usuthu turned and fled.
The Boers, mounted on their horses, checked both the Usuthu retreat and the Mandlakazi attack, as the latter left the cover of the dense bush, and they forced the Mandlakazi to turn and seek shelter in the bush on the slopes of eTshaneni. Taking note of this development, the Usuthu then turned and pursued the Mandlakazi up the slopes of eTshaneni, resulting in their line of retreat being cut off.
They turned the Mandlakazi retreat into a rout, inflicting a devastating defeat on Zibhebhu. As the attack continued, the abaQulusi, allies of the Usuthu, crossed the Mkuze River and stormed the ridge where the women, children and cattle had been concealed. They attacked with great ferocity, scattering the defending force, and capturing the cattle - the Mandlakazi wealth.
The battle lasted little more than an hour. Mopping up then commenced, and the Usuthu showed no mercy. Fleeing Mandlakazi warriors were either drowned in the river, or stabbed and shot as they fled. Amongst the dead were no fewer than six of Zibhebhu's brothers and many members of his family. Zibhebhu, mounted on his horse, watched the carnage from a high vantage point with his two White advisors, Darke and Eckersley. As the Usuthu turned towards him, he turned his horse and fled, taking refuge in the Eshowe district for 4 years before the British allowed him to return to his home at Bangonomo.
In return for their assistance, the Boers were granted huge tracts of land which they later welded into the short-lived Nieuwe Republiek, with Lucas Meyer as its first and only President.
Dr. John Cooke delivered a comprehensive vote of thanks to both speakers for sharing their experience and research with the audience.
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