Tuesday 25 November 2008

Battlefield History 101. F.Y.I.

I spent all of my teenage years living in South Africa, and one thing I have come to terms with is the fact that although not my original homeland, Africa, as a whole has a hold on a person. I will never forget it. I will never forget my life there, how we lived, where we lived. It will always have a piece of my heart.

We lived in a small country town in the province of Natal (now known as Kwa Zulu Natal). Dundee was and still is, famous for it's history and particularly it's proximity to the site of the Battle of Isandlwana, which occured in 1879. (see http://www.zuluwars.co.za/index.php) . One thousand, six hundred Red Coats (British) were killed at the foot of Isandlwana by around twenty thousand Zulus. Wherever a British soldier fell, a cairn was erected over him.
Each year that we lived in Dundee, a commemorative walk was held and promoted by the local MOTHs (Men of the Tin Hats) - an organisation akin to the RSL (Returned Soldier's League). If you completed the walk from Isandlwana to Blood River, via Fugitive's Drift, you were rewarded with a braai (BBQ), cool drinks and later - a certificate to prove you ventured through the rugged terrain in the footsteps of the unfortunate men who fell there.

One year, a local historian was giving a lecture on what had happened at the site all those years ago. My mam was standing next to a cairn and while listening to the lecture, began to 'doodle' with her foot in the red dirt. Imagine her horror, if you will, as she uncovered a humerus bone whilst mid-doodle. The bone was taken by the organisers and I have no idea what happened to it.

A documentary on the Battle of Isandlwana was featured on the History channel this evening. Sarah was sitting next to me. She's heard my stories of life in S Africa many times, and was gracious enough to say nothing when I continued to utter "Amazing" and "Can you believe it?" and "I actually walked there. Each year, I walked there" and "Did I tell you Granny uncovered a human bone near one of those cairns?..."

Like I said.... South Africa has a hold on me. I'm constantly aware of this fact 'cos after all - the Machinist is a Serf Efrican through and through, and in his Ouma's words "Hy is 'n Boer en hy bly 'n Boer"

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