In a sombre ceremony in fields once stained with the blood of British troops and Zulu warriors, former foes on Friday honoured the fallen and unveiled memorials to both sides.
The memorial to the estimated two thousand Zulus who died in the 22 January 1879 Battle of Isandlwana is a rarity in South Africa.
Previously, most such memorials have been to whites.
British troops and Zulu warriors met here to remember the fallen.
With the end of apartheid, the sacrifices of blacks are now starting to be recognized.
The Zulus suffered enormous casualties during the 1879 battle — they had fought mostly with spears against soldiers armed with rifles and cannons — but won the battle.
They overran an army camp, killing almost everyone there and dealing Britain its worst colonial-era military defeat ever.
During a brief, five-minute re-enactment, about 30 white men dressed in the red tunics and white campaign helmets worn 120 years ago fired blank volleys on about 300 Zulus dressed in traditional dress.
Active-duty British troops came to Isandlwana having travelled from their base in Paderborn, Germany, to pay homage not only to the more than 800 British soldiers who died, along with about 470 of their native African troops, but also to the Zulus.
“In the space of less than three hours, our soldiers acquired the greatest respect for the fighting qualities of the Zulu nation, for we learnt many, many hard lessons from the events that unfolded here on the 22 January 1879.”
SUPERCAPTION: Field Marshal Lord Vincent
In a church with crumbling white washed walls at the battlefield, members of the Welsh regiment sat on the one side in camouflage fatigues.
Opposite them were civilians, many of them Zulus in traditional warrior outfits of leopard skins and carrying spears and cowhide shields.
Zulu King Goodwill Zwelethini remembered the fallen.
“We remember and pay homage to all brave men in whatever fight they may have fought. All of them fought and died for what they believed to be a just cause.”
SUPERCAPTION: Zulu King Goodwill Zwelethini
South Africa’s eastern KwaZulu-Natal Province, where Isandlwana is located about 350 kilometers southeast of Johannesburg (220 miles), is one of the poorest regions of the country.
Much of the area around the battlefield looks like it did 120 years ago.
Round huts with mud walls and thatched roofs still hug the slopes of the rolling countryside.
Most lack electricity and running water.
Developing the battlefield, located in a sea of grasses below a rocky hill, could create jobs.
A thatched-roof lodge near the site, financed by American investors, is to open soon.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi, South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister and the leader of the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party, told an audience of diplomats, military officials, history buffs and others that development was essential.
“Together we can now engage in the most important of all battles, which is that of the battle for economic prosperity and social stability for all our people.”
SUPERCAPTION: Mangosuthu Buthelezi, South African Home Affairs Minister and President of the Nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party
Buthelezi joined his sometime rival, the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelethini, in renewed calls for a separate nation for the Zulu.
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