The Zulu War of 1879 is famous throughout the English-speakingworld for the great battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift. The first sawthe slaughter of over 1000 British soldiers by Zulu warriorsemploying their extraordinarily successful military tactics; the secondsaw the fortunes reversed when a few hundred British soldiers held theirgarrison against thousands of Zulus. Fugitives’ Drift is a geographicallocation as well as a wonderful property that belongs to the Rattrays, afamily who pioneered Heritage Tourism in South Africa. The camp, composedof a guest house, the main family lodge and comfortable cottages withverandahs overlooking the Buffalo River Gorge, is the warm and atmosphericstarting point for excursions to the battlefields of Isandlwana andRorke’s Drift. But these are no normal excursions.
With three superb guides on hand, the morning’s visitto the battlefield of Isandlwana begins at 7:30 with a 4-wheel driveacross the Buffalo River towards to mountain peak shaped like a sphinx.Accompaniedby a riveting tape that sets the background for the day’s battle,the drive takes about 40 minutes with stops here and there to set the stagefor the slaughter that is to come. The morning unfolds, first atop aneighboring mountain that affords a
sweeping view down on the battlefield and across thelandscapes from
which swarmed the thousands of Zulu warriors in theirBuffalo formation — the right and the left horns around the base of thehill and the head and chest bearing down on the British tented camp. Movingdown to the heritage center and then, finally, on to the battlefielditself, Joseph, George or Rob present the action of that morning with suchstorytelling talent that one cannot help but be caught up in the actionand emotionally moved. As the sun slid behind the moon on that day of theeclipse, all but a handful of the Anglo regiments were slain on the plainwhere they were camped.The afternoon’s visit to Rorke’s Drift describes theafternoon battle of that dreadful day, one that occurred on the smallestbattlefield the British have ever defended — a patch of land, a cattlekraal, and two buildings, a hospital and a store. Massed Zulus poured overthe escarpment behind the garrison occupied by a few hundred British soldiers,anxious to “wash their spears” in blood and become men. Here thestory focuses on individual soliders who displayed a grit and bravery thathas become legendary. Quite frankly, the unfolding story as told to me byGeorge was so moving and so stunning that I felt my tears beginning towell.
On another day you might choose to walk or ride horsebackdown to Fugitives’ Drift or crossing where three British soldiersattempted to escape the slaughter of Isandlwana with the Queen’s Colors.Should one not wish to make that effort but rather stay in camp at thepool or in the library, no matter. The property overlooks that stunningdrift, a constant reminder of an extraordinary piece of history thatunfolded in this far-flung part of the world.