Isandlwana Wreath Laying Ceremony

ON 22 JANUARY 1879


Isandlwana: 22 January 2019


His Majesty the King of the Zulu Nation, King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu; Members of the Zulu Royal Family; His Excellency the Minister of Arts and Culture, the Honourable Mr Nathi Mthethwa; the KwaZulu Natal MEC for Arts and Culture, the Honourable Mrs Bongiwe Sithole Moloi; Programme Director and Director General of the Department of Arts and Culture, Mr Vusi Mkhize; His Worship the Mayor of the Umzinyathi District Municipality, Councillor Petros Mthandeni Ngubane; Inkosi Mazibuko and the AmaNgwe Buthanani Traditional Council; CEO of the KwaZulu Natal Arts and Culture Trust, Ms Gugu kaMavundla Ncgobo; the Royal Chaplain and members of the Clergy; amaKhosi and Izinduna; our amaButho; our distinguished guests; and proud members of the Zulu Nation.

When the dust settled on Isandlwana on 22 January 1879, the numbers of dead were counted. Of the 1 200 British Redcoats, only some 60 had survived, escaping across the Tugela. Among the regiments of King Cetshwayo, who numbered far more, more than 2 000 had fallen to the fire power of Martini-Henry rifles.

The Battle of Isandlwana had been a decisive victory for the Zulu Nation. Yet when he heard the news that so many of his warriors had perished, King Cetshwayo cried out, “Alas, a spear has been thrust into the belly of the Nation”.

Death, even a noble death, is a tragedy. It is therefore right that we remember the sacrifice of brave men who laid down their lives for their king.

This moment of remembrance is personal for me, for my paternal great grandfather, Prime Minister Mnyamana kaNqengelele Buthelezi, was Commander-in-Chief of King Cetshwayo’s Regiments during the Anglo-Zulu War. His sons fought at Isandlwana. Indeed one died on the battlefield, while the other, my grandfather, Inkosi Mkhandumba Buthelezi, lived to cry “Usuthu!”
King Cetshwayo himself was my maternal great grandfather. I therefore feel deeply connected to the memories of this Battle, and to the memories of the Anglo-Zulu War. I am humbled to participate in honouring those who died.

Yet I know that I am not alone in feeling this deep connection. Every member of the Zulu Nation is connected to Isandlwana, for the fate of our nation was sealed at this place. It is here that we learned that victory is possible even under the direst circumstances. Isandlwana planted an unconquerable spirit in the heart of the Zulu Nation.

I am proud that the role of King Cetshwayo in South Africa’s liberation has been memorialised. In 2017, a statue of my great grandfather was unveiled at the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town. In commemoration of 350 years of the Castle’s existence, four statutes now stand watch over the place where freedom fighters were imprisoned. Great leaders of the amaHlubi, Bapedi and Khoisan join King Cetshwayo, memorialising our shared struggle for freedom.

It is important that we have statues, commemorations and memorial plaques. We need tangible reminders of the past. We also need to honour the historians, academics and guides who recount the details of the past, keeping alive the spirit of moments like Isandlwana.

This place, the battlefield itself, is a sacred space. It is right that the building of a Heritage Precinct here has been approached so cautiously, over such an extended period of time, and in constant consultation with the AmaNgwe Buthanani Traditional Council, and with His Majesty the King.

We must be careful to maintain the integrity of this heritage site, so that the spirit of what happened here can be intimately felt as one stands on the soil, hearing the wind whispering through the grass. This is not just about saving enough space for the re-enactment of the Battle, which forms such an integral part of our commemoration ceremonies. It is about preserving what our forebears saw, as they ran into battle on behalf of our Kingdom.

We were therefore impressed by the sculpture of the iziqu, the necklace of valour, which was placed here on the 120th anniversary of the Battle. Equally so, we were devastated by the vandalism that took place here a few years ago, when graves were being desecrated by thieves. The Prince of Wales, His Royal Highness Prince Charles, wrote to me on that occasion, asking that we protect the graves of those who fought at Isandlwana.

For the reality is that the mortal remains of our warriors and those of the British are buried together at Isandlwana. During the Heritage Impact Assessment, the late historian and Anglo-Zulu War expert, Dr Ken Gillings provided invaluable expertise, indicating that there may well be mass graves on this site that had not yet been uncovered.

The bones that lay strewn on this battlefield were buried six months after the battle. Accordingly, bones were gathered together in heaps and stones were piled on top of them in cairns. Sadly, many of those cairns were subsequently flattened, making it difficult to know where bones lay buried.

Dr Gillings proved right, for eleven mass graves were eventually uncovered, where Zulu warriors and British soldiers lie buried together. There is symbolism in this, for our two nations, though once enemies, have come together to commemorate the 140th anniversary of the Anglo-Zulu War.

I am reminded of a line from that iconic film “Zulu” which portrayed the Battle of Rorke’s Drift. Private Cole turns to Colour Sergeant Bourne and asks, “Why does it have to be us?” The response says it all: “Because we’re here, lad. Nobody else. Just us.”

It was up to that generation to meet on the battlefield. It is up to us to remember.

As I said, I am grateful that the proposed construction of a Heritage Precinct has been approached with such caution. The necessary specifications and conditions have been identified by a heritage impact assessment, a palaeontological assessment, a wetland assessment, a geotechnical assessment and a floodline assessment. According to the findings of these assessments, if the specifications and conditions are strictly adhered to, there will be no detrimental impact.

As we anticipate the construction of this Heritage Precinct, we thank His Majesty our King for leading us in the laying of wreaths on the battlefield. I recall that during the first visit of the Prince of Wales to South Africa, arrangements had been made for him and me to lay wreaths at Isandlwana. Tragically, those plans were torpedoed by someone who thought that such a thing was too good for Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

During that very visit, I found myself having tea with His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, we asked each other, “What happened?” It is some consolation that members of the Royal Welsh Regiments and Friends of the Royal Welsh Museum will join us this year as we commemorate the Battle of Isandlwana.

On that day, His Majesty our King will address us, as he does now. He is the son of His Majesty King Cyprian Bhekuzulu Nyangayezizwe, the son of His Majesty King Solomon Maphumzana, the son of His Majesty King Dinuzulu, the son of His Majesty King Cetshwayo, around whose persona our people displayed such valour.

It is my privilege to present the great great grandson of King Cetshwayo, the King of this great Nation