Monuments & Battlefields in South Africa

by Peter Baxter  

isandalwana.jpg

Isandalwana: the greatest defeat ever inflicted on the British Army by a native force…

From the arrival of the white man at the Cape, and the advent of recorded history, the region has been locked in a restless struggle both within and between the major racial groups. Events of great significance, such as the Great Trek, the Anglo/Zulu and the Anglo/Boer Wars, the wars of pacification between occupier and native in various parts of the country, and the ongoing confusion as to what defines a native of South Africa, have all contributed to a lively, and indeed living history.

Race History

All the races of South Africa take their history seriously, but in a nation where the wounds of repression and racism are still fresh, many of the commemorative monuments are mutually antagonistic, and what is revered by one is often reviled by another. When for so many years the white minority of South Africa held both the purse strings and command over the documentation of history, the bulk of historical monuments in the country tend to be those commemorating white endeavour. However in the decade since independence much iconography has come into being celebrating the black liberation struggle and the heroes and champions that it produced.

From the many building of historic interest in the Cape, the sombre battlefields of KwaZulu Natal, almost every aspect of this history has left physical traces that remain to be examined and explored by those interested in such things.

boer_commando1.jpgBattlefields

The main points of interest for a history traveller in South Africa are the many sites and monuments the commemorate from both sides the Anglo/Boer War. This was a race war before the black and white race issue had really surfaced in South Africa, and remains one of the most iconic conflicts to affect Britain in her quest to amass a global empire. It was unusual insofar as it matched white man against white, and was a glorious moment in Boer history, even in defeat, for it was a defeat that took a contribution from every colony and dominion of the Empire to ultimately achieve.

The Anglo/Zulu War, although less important in the scheme of colonial conflicts, was one of the greatest, if not the greatest defeat inflicted on the British Army by a purely native power. To the Zulu it was a bitter moment as the end came of their domination of the landscape, and the rise of their unique military culture. To the settler minority it was the culmination of a program of pacification that had brought, one after another, all of the major local powers to heel, and under the suzerainty of either British or Boer rule.

Monuments

The monuments of both of these wars are revered, and are scattered widely across the region and country. For a traveller curious to absorb and learn about the bloody and divided history of South Africa, there is, unlike in many countries of the region, a richly preserved heritage of sites and monuments that stitch together a tale of empire, of creation and destruction, and of the harsh and bloody march of human progress.

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