We are kidless until Christmas Eve – Younger Daughter and Junior Granddaughters have flitted off to near Cape Town to visit other Grannie and aunts and cousins. That has given me a bit of time to ruminate about the public holiday which fell today.
I grew up to regard 16th December in South Africa as ‘Dingaan’s Day’, but after hearing that it commemorated The Battle of Blood River, where only Dingaan’s generals were represented and got rather badly clobbered, I started wondering why. The alternative name, the Day of the Covenant, made more sense. This came from a spot of bribery to God a few days before on the part of the Voortrekkers then under Sarel Cilliers, making up the force of 460 men under Boer general Andries Pretorius who were involved in the 1838 battle. They promised to build a church in gratitude if they won.
They really did need a miracle – the force of Boer General Andries Pretorius numbered 460 while the Zulu impis coming up against them were at least 30,000 warriors. Even with two cannon firing buckshot, and a good stock of single-shot muskets and ammunition, it was a tall order. Still, after the battle there were 3,000 dead Zulus in three hours as against three wounded Trekkers – one being friend Andries who got stabbed in the hand by an assegai. Presumably this was after two hours of shooting down waves of attackers, when the Trekkers got bored so he rode out with them to break up the attacking formations, finally putting them to flight. Then they hunted the fleeing.
A church was duly erected in Pietermaritzburg.
Dingaan had actually brought it upon himself, though. He had Piet Retief and his followers bumped off during a friendly session of beer drinking following the apparent signing of a treaty granting land to the Trekkers (as is usual with history, there is argument about the fine detail including whether the treaty document was genuine – only a copy survives). According to some witnesses, this wasn’t as much of a total massacre as is commonly made out. Although the Trekkers had left their guns outside as a matter of courtesy, they are still said to have done considerable damage with their penknives, and one witness later captured reported that an attacker had died for every Trekker killed. The Retief party had fought their way clear of the first regiment sent to deal with them and another had to reinforce it.
Many are the explanations for this act by Dingaan, including ones that have him expecting treachery from them and therefore pre-empting it with some of his own, but whatever the true explanation it wasn’t exactly cricket. And it seriously annoyed the Trekkers, who were out to get him in a big way from then onwards. However, the old name for the holiday was still misleading. It should have been ‘Just Not Dingaan’s Day’.
Anyway, the idea of commemorating the event has never gone down too well with the Zulus, particularly as part of the blame lies with their hero Shaka and his silly stabbing assegais which were totally unsuitable in that sort of battle, and the holiday is now known as the Day of Reconciliation. Judging by today’s potentially inflammatory utterances by our esteemed President Zuma in Port Elizabeth – in normal jocular denial after slaughtering the SA economy in two fell swoops with a sudden epidemic of hiring and firing Ministers of Finance – it should be renamed the Day of Wreck-one-silly-nation.
Zumbie was saying how lucky the whites were that they didn’t get it in the neck after independence. In other words, why don’t we give it to them now?
It rather annoys me the way that Apartheid is made out to be the worst evil that ever happened to anyone anywhere anyhow. It was awful, certainly. But the apartheid mob were pussycats compared with African and other regimes quite recently carrying out some spectacular spots of genocide, quite apart from other current examples of intolerable oppression.