ZULULAND AND THE ANGLO-BOER WAR (1899-1902) by A de V Minnaar

Institute for Historical Research (Human Sciences Research Council)

Although Zululand as such was not involved in the mainstream of actions during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, nonetheless its inhabitants, especially the Zulu living along the South African Republic-Zululand border, were affected by war conditions. There were numerous minor actions, patrols and raids on both sides of the border. The largest action was provided by Gen Louis Botha’s abortive attempt to invade Natal via Zululand in September 1901, which attempt culminated in the pitched battles at Itala and Fort Prospect. The Zulus themselves made various contributions and were involved in scouting, raiding and defending the border from Boer incursions.

At the beginning of the war the British and the Boers were in agreement that it would be a ‘white man’s war’ in which blacks would only be used in non-combatant roles. Both sides had intended keeping it as such and had warned the Basutos, Swazis, Zulus and other black tribes to ‘stay out of their war’. Shortly before the commencement of hostilities the Boer general for Vryheid, Coenraad Meyer, sent a personal message to Dinizulu, son of the last king of the Zulus, Cetshwayo, recognised as the de facto leader of the Zulu nation, instructing him that the Zulus were to take no part in a war that was to be a white man’s war.(1)

For this reason Zululand, populated almost entirely by Zulu people, had little involvement in the mainstream of the war. This is, however, not to say that no military engagements, raids and other activity associated with the war did not take place in Zululand. In the course of matters Zululand and Zululanders, both black and white, could not avoid being involved since the British Army made use of many blacks as transport drivers, porters and in construction works and also depended heavily on them for scouting and intelligence work. R C A Samuelson, a lawyer in Natal, had in fact raised a unit of men for intelligence work known as the Zululand Native Scouts.(2)

Preparations for War
In the event of hostilities the defence plan for Zululand considered Nkandla as indefensible and the police at this post were instructed to retire to Nqutu while the same applied to Melmoth where, at the first sign of danger, the inhabitants were to retire to Eshowe. Those at Mahlabatini were to go to Nongoma. This magistracy would also be reinforced by forces from Hlabisa if necessary. In northern Zululand the detachment of Zululand Police at Gwaliweni were to be concentrated at Ingwavuma. At Eshowe a fairly strong detachment of the Zululand Native Police were kept so as to be available for repelling an attack in any direction, especially one via Melmoth. In December 1899 the Mahlabatini magistrate had requested that if no regular police could be spared for his district then a supply of arms and ammunition be stored at the magistracy so that he could enlist and arm trustworthy blacks from the district to assist him in repelling any Boer raiders.(3)

The British were afraid that the Boers would attack them from the Vryheid district and for this reason the existing units of the Zululand Native Police (Nonqai) were not disbanded but, on the contrary, were strengthened (before Roberts’s arrival in South Africa an extra force of 500 Zulu police were recruited) to ‘protect the border’ and continued throughout the war in their work of patrolling Zululand and the border between the South African Republic and Zululand. On a number of occasions they were involved in military actions in support of defensive positions of British forces, in guard duty or convoy protection. However, the inability of this force to defend the region successfully against a determined Boer invasion was nonetheless recognised, for Eshowe was not in heliographic communication with Nkandla, Nqutu, Nongoma, Ubombo and Melmoth.(4)

At the start of the war the Zulus were instructed by the magistrates to remain within the borders of their reserves and not become involved in military operations, though they were entitled to defend themselves and their property against Boer aggression. In most of the border areas Zulu cattle were moved away further inland for fear of Boer cattle raids while the Zululand magistrates issued orders that any resistance to cattle raids by Boer forces would be conducted by the Zululand police.(5)

As early as the end of October 1899, the magistrate of the Ndwandwe (Nongoma) district, J Y Gibson, had reported that ‘great resentment has been caused amongst natives in the western half of the Vryheid district by the commandeering of their cattle, horses etc., and by the taking away of their children’.(6) It was this confiscation and commandeering of cattle from the Zulu in the Vryheid district which was one of the main reasons for the deterioration of relations between Boers and blacks in the area. Further unrest was caused by the conscription of Zulu labourers and cattle guards to accompany the local Boer commando. Eventually these actions led to the ‘most serious confrontation of the whole war between black and white’, the engagement at Holkrans between a Boer commando and a Zulu impi.(7)

The First Hostilities in Zululand
Although Sir Charles Saunders, chief commissioner and resident magistrate of Zululand, had argued before the beginning of the war that a Boer invasion of Zululand was unlikely, the possibility of Boers from Vryheid crossing Zululand with the intention of raiding Pietermaritzburg or Durban could not be ignored. Fears of a Boer invasion of Zululand grew when, with the start of the war, a Boer force raided a trading store at Mhlatuze in the Nkandla district. Further north Cmdt Joachim Ferreira, who had laboured so hard to acquire the lands across the Lebombo for the South African Republic, led a commando on 28 October 1899 to the top of the Lebombo Mountains at Gwaliweni. From there they rode towards Ingwavuma cutting the telegraph line on the way. There were about 250 men in this commando and the Ingwavuma magistrate, B Colenbrander, decided it would be prudent to evacuate. On 29 October 1899 he hastily fled the magistrate’s offices only ten minutes before the arrival of the Boer force. With his staff together with ten white constables and 25 Zulu policemen he retired into the Nhlati forest and after a week, being assisted by Chief Sambane and his people, reached the magistracy at Ubombo. Behind him the Boers looted the store and systematically destroyed the buildings before they set them alight abandoning them to the wind and rain. They also took 500 head of cattle belonging to a private individual, a Mr Henwood. On 3 November Cmdt Ferreira with a commando of 400 men formally took possession of the Ingwavuma district. Ingwavuma village remained deserted until January 1900 when the trader, E Finetti, returned but found the place in ruins with bullet holes through every water tank.(6)

Further south the prominent Zulu Chief Zibhebhu, fearing that Cmdt Ferreira intended to attack him as well, sent a large number of his cattle east to Chief Mavuso at St Lucia for safekeeping.(9) Throughout December 1899 there was a good deal of intimidation along the border between the South African Republic and Zululand. One of the main culprits was a Boer commando led by Hendrik Potgieter known to the Zulus as ‘Manfele’. Zulu scouts were warned that unless they ceased scouting for the British they would be shot. The magistrate of the Mthonjaneni (Melmoth) district, T Maxwell, urged that these scouts be armed so as to be able to protect themselves. This was refused by the civil authorities who felt it would lead to further retaliation by the Boer forces.(10)

Invasion Fears
For the remainder of 1899 a Boer invasion of Zululand was expected. Rumours of impending raids were particularly strong in the Nkandla and Nqutu districts. The local Zulus were worried whether the British authorities were capable of and in a position to protect them. Furthermore at the end of November concern was being expressed about food supplies which were not getting through to storekeepers since traditionally the Boers had undertaken the transport of supplies.(11)

On 30 November a deputation of the chiefs of the Nqutu district told the magistrate, C F Hignett, that they would protect the district in the event of a Boer invasion since there were no troops available to do so. On 13 December Chief Mehlokazulu spent the night with 250 men on Nqutu Hill ready to defend the magistrate’s building from a rumoured attack. At the end of December 1899 and the beginning of January 1900 two more Boer raids into Zululand occurred when the trading stores at Rorke’s Drift and Vant’s Drift were looted. On the first occasion Chief Tlokoa from Nqutu assembled at the magistrate’s office and pursued the raiders out of the district.(12)

These raids led to additional forces being sent to Zululand. From the beginning of January 1900 onwards the so-called Melmoth Field Force (under command of Col A W Morris) made up of two squadrons of Colonial Scouts, fifty men of the 60th Rifles, and a troop of Natal Police, assisted the Zululand Native Police in guarding the Zululand border. Furthermore, in support of Sir Redvers Buller’s attack on the Boer main Natal front, a force of 300 Colonial Scouts under Col Friend Addison was ordered from the Lower Thukela to move through Zululand to attack Helpmekaar and cut the Boer communications at Waschbank. Addison reached Nqutu on 18 January 1900 but, being unable to get any information as to whether or not Buller’s attack had begun, and faced with reports of strong Boer forces attempting to stop his advance, he waited at Nqutu for two weeks until ordered to retire to Eshowe which he reached on 8 February. His force was then incorporated with the Melmoth Field Force operating from Eshowe which was further reinforced by a detachment of two guns of the Natal Field Artillery and 150 men of the Natal Royal Rifles. (13)

Zululand invaded
There were protests about Addison’s aggressive intentions. Sir Charles Saunders felt these troop movements would encourage a build-up of Boer forces on the border leading to more raids by Boers into Zululand and possibly even occupation. The Boers had placed a commando under Gen Coenraad Meyer with its headquarters at Vryheid to watch the area bordering Zululand up to the Phongolo River while another commando under Cmdt Ferreira was placed at Helpmekaar to protect the rear of the Boer forces in Natal. Ferreira had also placed an outpost at Rorke’s Drift. In January 1900 Meyer and Ferreira had met to discuss the possibility of invading Zululand. Eventually on 31 January 1900, 600 Boer commandos under Cmdt Ferreira invaded Nqutu attacking the magistracy. After half an hour’s defence and after they had wounded or killed ten of the Boers’ horses the men at the magistracy surrendered. Twenty British, among whom were the magistrate, his wife and child, and fifty Zulu policemen were taken prisoner. The Boers also took 295 guns, twenty horses and 65 boxes of ammunition. President Kruger had been unhappy with this attack and the Zulu prisoners were sent back from Pretoria to Nqutu. However, the Boers remained in possession of the Nqutu district since it was of strategic importance to them, shortening their line of communications and was useful in protecting the Vryheid border. This attack on Nqutu led to a decision on 2 February 1900 to withdraw the British Forces stationed at Nongoma, Nkonjeni and Nkandla to strengthen the garrison at Melmoth. The Boers, however, did not attack Melmoth but moved on to occupy Nkandla, capturing the magistracy there on 19 February. The occupation of Nkandla was however, short-lived for on 24 February it was reoccupied by Col Morris’s force; but the Nqutu district was only cleared of Boer forces in May l900.(14)

The Boer administration of the occupied districts of Nqutu and Nkandla came under Field-Cornets IJ van den Berg and H Potgieter. Although widespread looting occurred during this Boer invasion these two tried to restore order. Van den Berg announced that the districts had been annexed by the South African Republic; that the chiefs were to exercise the same authority as before; that the Zulu policemen should return to perform their normal duties and all claims should be presented to him. In addition, taxes at the rate of 7 shillings per hut (half the existing rate) were to be collected in March 1900. The Boers, in an effort to conciliate the Zulus so as to prevent any resistance, allowed them to buy mealies and meat brought into the occupied districts from the South African Republic as well as to share in some of the spoils of the looting from the initial invasion, while food was also distributed to those in need. (15) In the Nkandla district the Boers gave local Zulus presents from the stock of the storekeepers in the district. After the capture of Nkandla the Boers had been careful to impress upon the Zulus that ‘they must sit still, and no harm will come to them, as it will not be long now, ere they, the Boers, will be in possession of the whole of Zululand, and the boundary between Zululand and SAR, no longer exists.’ The Boers also spread rumours that they would punish any blacks still loyal to the British after the war had ended.(16)

But not all collaborated. Chiefs Mehlokazulu, Nongamulana and Sitshitshili fled in the wake of the Boer invasion. Mehlokazulu fled because he was suspected of arming his men to resist the occupation, Nongamulana because he had arrested a Boer spy in Zululand at the beginning of the war, and Sitshitshili because he had warned J L Knight, the magistrate at Nkandla, of the approach of the invading Boer commandos which allowed Knight to make good his escape unlike the magistrate at Nqutu, C F Hignett, who was captured by the Boers and with his family spent several months as a prisoner in Pretoria.(17)

After this Boer invasion of Zululand the system of espionage by Zulus was expanded in the valleys of the Mkhuze and Phongolo rivers and in the Nwandwe district (Nongoma) under the supervision of the Ingwavuma magistrate, Colenbrander, working with ten Zulu spies. The Zulus of the areas across the border continued to furnish these black spies with information and to harbour and provide them with food when they were in the South African Republic.(18)

However, the retreat of the Boers from Zululand and the evacuation of large areas of the Vryheid district in May and June 1900 led to a number of cattle raids by Zulus from the Nqutu and Nkandla districts as well as other districts of Zululand bordering the South African Republic. The increase in cattle raiding from Boer farms by Zulus prompted Sir Charles Saunders to issue strict instructions that on no account were Zulu raiding parties from Zululand to be allowed to cross the border into the South African Republic.(19)

Once the Boer invasion of Natal and Zululand was over, Dinizulu furnished the British army with an ever-increasing number of scouts and guides. Some men worked locally, reporting on events in the Vryheid district, relaying their information through the magistrates’ offices of Zululand. The effectiveness of the Zulu intelligence network was founded upon the co-operation of the Zulus in the South African Republic who provided the Zulu spies with information and gave them food and shelter while they remained in potentially hostile country.(20)

The Colonel Bottomley Episode
Early in 1901, a large British column led by Gen French began moving through the south-eastern Transvaal, destroying farm buildings, burning crops and seizing Boer livestock. To prevent the Boers driving their livestock into Zululand to avoid confiscation, the British Commander-in-chief, H Kitchener, on 3 February 1901 authorised Col H Bottomley to raise a small body of men to assist the Zulus in sealing off the border between Zululand and the South African Republic. In addition, Bottomley was instructed to supervize the Zulus when driving into Zululand Boer cattle which might otherwise supply the commandos with animals for slaughter and draught purposes. Bottomley’s force was to operate for three months independently of the General Officer Commanding Natal, Gen Hildyard, as well as bypassing the Zululand magistrates in the issuing of orders, with its primary objective the seizure of Boer livestock. Of the animals captured 65% were to become the property of Bottomley’s force, 10% would be retained by the Zulu in return for their co-operation while the remaining 25% were to be handed over to the British Army.(21)

The freedom of action given to Bottomley, the fact that there was a large amount of self-interest involved, the planned role of the Zulus in the scheme and the way the local Zululand administration was ignored, led to bitter criticisms by Sir Charles Saunders and the Natal government in Pietermaritzburg. Their major objection was to the arming of the Zulus in Zululand and their being sent, without any white supervision, into the South African Republic to loot Hoer stock. They felt this to be contrary to Bottomley’s orders which stated that he should inform the Zulus to ‘oppose entry of Boers into Zululand’ and encourage them ‘to resist any invasion by force’. Nothing had been said about their going into the South African Republic to raid the Boers, only that ‘outside Zululand unarmed natives may be employed directly under the control of Colonel Bottomley or his officers to collect and bring cattle in’. It was this last set of instructions which caused most of the trouble. Furthermore, Saunders resented Bottomley’s bypassing him in issuing instructions directly to the chiefs.(22)

On 26 March 1901 Bottomley arrived in Zululand and at once assigned military agents to the border districts to organize the operation. At Nkandla he placed the Zulu under the charge of a man named Cooper with instructions that they were to guard the border and raid the stock of the Boers in the districts of Utrecht, Wakkerstroom and Vryheid. At Melmoth Bottomley appointed B Cressey as his agent. On 30 March Bottomley arrived at Mahlabatini and from there visited Dinizulu and Zibhebhu, both of whom were ordered to arm their followers to protect Zululand. But even before the planned start of the scheme on 4 April, raiding had already begun. On the night of 31 March, Chief Ngodi of the Nkandla distrkt, with a party of armed men, crossed into the Vryheid district, exchanged shots with Boers in the vicinity, and returned with 500 cattle and 600 sheep. On the following night a similar raid again occurred across the border. Dinizulu had raised a 1 500-strong impi and commenced raiding. However, because they were mostly poorly armed these raiding parties tended to avoid engagements with the Boers. There was only one significant engagement and that at a hill known as the Dhleke where quantities of firearms were seized from the Boers with the loss of only two men. Other Zulu chiefs also participated in Bottomley’s scheme; Mehlokazulu, Sitshitshili, Nongamulana, Zibhebhu and Kamba all organised raids into the South African Republic to bring back livestock from Boer farms.(23)

From the beginning of Bottomley’s operations, the Zululand magistrates had tried to obstruct him by forbidding any impi to cross the frontier but without much success. The possibility of the Zulu raiding parties, especially those under Dinizulu, growing too strong so alarmed Sir Charles Saunders that he threatened to withdraw all the magistrates from the border districts of Zululand. He also objected to the movement of looted cattle infected with lung sickness. There were complaints by the various magistrates that Col Bottomley’s agents ‘appear to do whatever they like and [are] only checked when their irregularities are reported by [the] Civil Government’.(24)

Pressure to end Bottomley’s operations grew and eventually on 6 June 1901 they were formally stopped and a commission of enquiry was sent to investigate the allegations of impropriety made by the civil authorities. The Zulu forces on the frontier were also disbanded except in the Ndwandwe distria where Dinizulu and Zibhebhu were instructed to keep small bodies of men on patrol. Estimates of the number of cattle brought back in the Bottomley raids vary widely but Warwick estimates that at least 10 000 cattle, together with a few thousand sheep, were rounded up in the short space of two months.(25)

The Boers were not slow to retaliate to the cattle raids of the Zulus. On 4 April 1901 a party of about forty Boers entered the Mahlabatini district and raided F S Mann’s store where they carried away what they could and destroyed much of what they did not require. (26)

From April 1901 onwards, small parties of Boers driven south by Gen French’s sweeping movement continued to cause trouble along the SAR-Zululand border. They wandered up and down harassing the local inhabitants, attacking any British post which seemed to be weakly held. On 27 April 1901 a commando 500 strong under Cmdt Scholtz raided the Mahlabatini magistracy seizing much livestock. On 28 April, 150-200 Boers of this commando made a determined attempt to storm the magistracy buildings at Mahlabatini. At 04h00 they commenced firing on scouts from the magistracy from near the neck where the telegraph crossed the main road. A force was sent out from the magistracy to meet them and a short, sharp, action took place at the summit of Nkonjeni Mountain where the Boers were busy looting the store. The Boers were beaten back leaving a wagon loaded with goods, one dead and one wounded. But as the sun came up the Boers surrounded the magistracy buildings which were being defended by only 20 white men of the Natal Field Force (and six magisterial staff members) and 20 of the Zululand Native Police, and poured in heavy fire from all sides. This was met with an unexpectedly obstinate resistance. The magistrate, C A Wheelwright, and his court officials who happened to be competent shots, joined the police in the defence of the buildings. After six hours of steady fighting, in which the small garrison lost no less than 4 killed and 3 wounded, the Boers eventually retired taking with them several killed and wounded and leaving in the hands of the defenders 2 severely wounded. Lord Kitchener thought so highly of its spirited defence that he telegraphed congratulations to the garrison on its bravery and conduct.(27)

General Botha’s Abortive Invasion Attempt
To divert British attention from the Transvaal the Boer commander Gen Louis Botha, in September 1901, planned a second invasion of Natal. His victory at Blood River Poort on 17 September 1901, however, alerted the British to his intentions and allowed them to secure the drifts into northern Natal, blocking his line of march towards Dundee. Besides the local Natal volunteer forces mobilised by the Natal governor, Sir Henry McCullum, to assist the three British columns in pursuit of Botha’s forces, some Zulu impis, armed with assegaais and carbines captured during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, were called up to defend their border with the South African Republic. In addition, the Officer Commanding Zululand, Maj H A Powell, decided to take some precautions of his own and ordered 2 officers and 60 men of the 5th Division Mounted Infantry to proceed from Fort Prospect to reinforce the post at Itala, while an officer and 48 men of the Durham Militia Artillery were sent to Fort Prospect from Melmoth.(28)

Botha found that the British occupation of De Jager’s Drift and Stael’s Drift on the Buffalo River, added to the fact that this river was in flood, made it impossible for him to cross into Natal as he had planned. As a result he decided to move southwards, hoping to cross the Buffalo River lower down. For this reason he began moving in the direction of Zululand. As he moved southwards Botha sent out patrols to reconnoitre the lower drifts but found that the Buffalo River was still rising while the British had also occupied both Vant’s Drift and Rorke’s Drift which closed another entry point to him. He was eventually able to enter the northern portion of the Nqutu district.(29)

On the afternoon of 22 September a patrol of the Volunteer Composite Regiment operating from Nqutu came into contact with the advance Boer patrols. Two Boers were reported wounded and a black border guard killed. The Boer patrol then proceeded to round up Zulu cattle in the vicinity of Nkande and Telezeni Hill. Botha skilfully used these cattle, not to feed his own men but in an attempt to ensure the neutrality of the local tribes, a neutrality which would be of particular value in the face of the British intelligence system. He returned the cattle, more than a thousand in number, with a letter to all the chiefs telling them that he was sorry to see that they had been attacked by the commandos, and that although he was entitled to keep the cattle he was sending them back as he had no quarrel with them. He further requested them to remain quietly and peacefully in their kraals.(30)

By 26 September 1901 Botha had moved out of the Nqutu district and had established his headquarters on the farm Gelykwater in the Babanango district. From here Botha made his attacks on the border posts of Itala (in the Nkandla district and at the junction of the roads from Vryheid to Dundee) and Fort Prospect (in the Melmoth district). Acting on information from the local commandant, Dannhauser, that both posts were poorly fortified and relying on his superior numbers Botha decided to attack both positions simultaneously.(31)

The Attack on Itala
Itala was manned by 300 Mounted Infantry under a young major of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, A J Chapman. Having been in existence for only a month the post was also in a weak position on a ridge at the foot of the mountain, protected merely by a circle of trenches. Chapman, forewarned by his Zulu scouts of the intended assaults, sent eighty men on to the mountain peak to surprise the Boers. At midnight on 25 September the first contact between the Boers and the British at Itala occurred there. In the ensuing fight Botha reported that the British lost 34 killed and 54 captured while a few British escaped down to the main camp.(32)

The British defenders on the summit gave those in the main camp more time to prepare their defensive positions. During the early hours of 26 September the Boers launched several heroic massed attacks on the British trenches but were repeatedly driven back owing to the British use of two guns and a Maxim to reduce the Boer covering fire from the surrounding ridges. In addition, the moonlight was bright enough for the British gun crews to see their target without being so bright as to expose them to Boer fire.(33)

With the coming of daylight the British gunners no longer had the cover they needed and they became the target for well-directed, Boer rifle fire. The gunners were thus forced to cease fire and take cover. However, the daylight also enabled the British to see the Boer approach. The Boers could therefore not come as close to the defences as they had done during the night in order to make short charges. The Boers kept up continuous firing all day on 26 September and British casualties were high. Excluding the losses on the summit, approximately a fifth of the garrison was killed or wounded, including the two senior officers. When the Boers withdrew on the evening of 26 September the British force at Itala was, in fact, close to collapse having manned the defences for almost eighteen hours. At midnight the British, fearing a renewed Boer attack, withdrew from Itala to the base camp at Nkandla leaving behind all the wounded.(34)

On 27 September a relieving column from Dundee arrived at Itala and the Boer threat to Zululand was, for the time being, overcome. In the official report on the action, the British casualties were given as 1 officer killed and 5 wounded, and 21 men killed and 54 wounded. The Boers had at least a hundred of their best fighters wounded and a number killed while much precious ammunition was expended, one of the factors forcing their withdrawal.(35)

The Attack on Fort Prospect
In contrast to the camp at Itala, the British position at Fort Prospect had been extremely well chosen and fortified with great attention to detail. It was about 25 kilometres south-east of Babanango and about 20 kilometres east of Itala. The British detachment consisted of 30 men of the Fifth Division, Mounted Infantry Battalion, under the command of Capt C A Rowley of the Dorsetshire Regiment, who was also commander of the post, and fifty men of the Durham Company of Militia Artillery under Lt R G M Thompson. The last-mentioned troops had been moved from the headquarters of the Zululand sub-district at Melmoth to Fort Prospect as late as 23 September, to replace the 2 officers and 60 men who had been ordered from Prospect to reinforce Itala on the same date. The defenders were also assisted by a machine gun and a party of Zululand Native Police.(36)

Against these 80 men and 2 officers Botha despatched the men of the Ermelo and Carolina Commandos under Gen Cherry Emmett (his brother-in-law) with Cmdt J N H Grobler of Ermelo as his second-in-command. The commandos left their base at Babanango on the evening of 25 September in the company of the main body of burghers destined for Itala. After the main body had left the Vryheid-Fort Prospect road, Emmett continued along the road, reaching Fort Prospect in the early hours of the morning. The attackers, under the impression that neither Itala or Fort Prospect were well fortified, were surprised to find themselves with the unexpected task of storming a strong position on a bare hill, the slopes of which offered them very little cover. In the darkness and under cover of a mist the Boers launched a concentrated attack from the north-west but, when they charged, they found that they had pitted themselves against the strongly-built stone sangars on that side. The attackers came to within twenty metres of the sangars but were driven back by heavy fire. When the mist lifted at dawn the Boer attack faltered, and the Boers finally withdrew from their exposed positions when they and their horses, which had been left in the valley below, came under heavy fire from the Maxim in the central fort. A little while later a second Boer attack was launched from the south-west against the trench at the open end of the horseshoe-shaped valley. While this attack was being beaten off Sergeant Gumbi of the Zululand Native Police had led his 13 men through the Boer lines and into the British post in order to assist with the defence. This detachment of Zululand Police had formed an advance post about six kilometres from Fort Prospect, to which 18 men had originally been sent on 16 September.(37)

The action then settled down to follow a similar pattern to the events simultaneously unfolding at Itala. The Boers completely surrounded the post and kept up their fire all day. The strength of the British position with its clear fields of fire, and their lack of cover and artillery support made the Boers unwilling to mount any further charges, which would inevitably have resulted in large losses. At sunset the firing slackened and the commandos with- drew.(38)

Rowley’s casualties only numbered 1 killed and 9 wounded but he estimated that at least 40 casualties had been inflicted on the Boer forces (Botha, in fact, reported that only two of his burghers were wounded, one seriously).(39)

The Aftermath of Botha’s Attempted Invasion
With Botha’s attacks on Itala and Fort Prospect the threat to Natal moved southwards from the drifts on the Buffalo River opposite Dundee to the Zululand border and the drifts of the Lower Thukela. Immediate steps were taken to meet this threat. Troops were sent from Pietermaritzburg, Glencoe and Ladysmith to Eshowe. Further troops were ordered to Eshowe from Harrismith while on 29 September 1901 the Natal Volunteers at Greytown were ordered to secure the drifts of the lower Thukela.(40)

However, the force under Maj Gen B Hamilton sent from Dundee to relieve Itala (where they arrived on the morning of 28 September) was short of supplies. On 29 September a convoy of 31 wagons left Melmoth with supplies for them but was intercepted at daybreak nine kilometres east of Fort Prospect, by elements of a force under command of Gen Chris Botha (Louis Botha’s brother). Of the 8 Zululand Native Police escorting the convoy 6 were killed while the white officer in charge, Sub-Inspector Mansel, was captured. The Boers were much relieved to capture these wagons containing as they did supplies of seed-oats, sugar, flour, clothing and footwear – goods sorely needed by the hard pressed Boers.(41)

The capture of this supply convoy by the Boers led the British to fear that the towns of Eshowe, Melmoth and Nkandla were in danger of being raided by the commandos and additional troops were deployed to strengthen the border region. At the local level the officer commanding the Zululand sub-district ordered the outlying detachment of police at Mthonjaneni to retire to Melmoth in order to reinforce the garrison of that town and at the same time to avoid being cut off by the commandos. Botha, however, having had his supplies replenished decided to withdraw before his line of retreat was cut off and by 30 September he began moving north again. Zululand was, therefore, spared a full-scale Boer invasion.(42)

The Holkrans Incident
In February 1902 Gen Louis Botha returned to the Vryheid district and renewed efforts were made by British columns to apprehend him. On 5 March 1902 Gen Hamilton arrived in Vryheid with a large force and asked Dinizulu to send 250 men to join his column to help in the work of capturing Boer livestock. With Sir Charles Saunders’ permissjon, an impi led by Dinizulu’s uncle, Ndabuko, Ndabankulu and Dinizulu’s white secretary, Gilbert, were sent to assist Hamilton. When the force reached Ngenetsheni the impi was placed under command of a British intelligence officer, F J Symmonds. The Zulu were instructed to march alongside the British column, collect livestock and take prisoner any Boer commandos they intercepted. During these operations Dinizulu’s Zulus were joined by an impi of the Qulusi chief Sikhobobo. These operations in March precipitated a complete breakdown in the relations between the Vryheid Boer commando bands and the Qulusi, who had provided valuable intelligence to Dinizulu’s spies throughout the war and had joined with the Zulu force accompanying Gen Hamilton’s column.(43)

At the end of April the greater part of the Vryheid and Utrecht commandos, on the orders of Gen Botha burnt down Chief Sikhobobo’s kraal at Qulusini, seized 3 800 head of cattle and 1 000 sheep and goats, and drove the chief and his people to seek shelter with the British garrison at Vryheid. It was only a matter of days before this attack on the Qulusi was avenged. On the evening of 5 May 1902 Sikhobobo informed the magistrate at Vryheid, A J Shepstone, that he was taking a party of men outside the town to try to recover some of his stolen cattle. That night a Qulusi impi of 300 men attacked a commando of seventy Boers under Field-Cornet Jan Potgieter laagered at Holkrans (Ntatshana), some twenty kilometres north of Vryheid. The Zulus surrounded the Boer laager intending to surprise them but a premature shot gave the Boers some warning. Nevertheless the Zulus used the darkness to creep in close and practically wipe out the commando. In this attack 56 Boers, most of them local farmers, were killed and 3 taken prisoner while all the cattle at the camp were driven off. The Zulu impi suffered the loss of 52 killed and 48 wounded.(44)

Throughout the Anglo-Boer War the continual raiding acoss the border between Zulu and Boer commandos and their taking each others’ livestock created much uncertainty, bitterness and distrust between the two groups which persisted after the war. This was especially so in the Vryheid region (previously western Zululand, then the New Republic, before eventually being incorporated into the South African Republic in 1886. At the end of the Anglo-Boer War this region was annexed to Natal as the northern districts becoming known as Northern Natal) and found expression in the Holkrans incident. Besides this engagement and the two battles at Itala and Fort Prospect there were few other fully-fledged clashes either between the Zulus or the British Army and the Boer commandos in Zululand and the adjacent South African Republic. There were, however, numerous small skirm- ishes, not all of them recorded.

Other effects of the war were the disruption of the migrant labour system (at the beginning of the war most of the Zulu miners on the Witwatersrand gold mines had returned to Zululand thus depriving the area of a valuable source of income). Many Zulu homesteads were also destroyed and although large numbers of cattle were seized from Boer farms by the Zulu they in turn lost a good deal of their own stock and grain stores to Boer commandos needing to replenish their supplies.

Although Zululand was not a militarily important sphere of activity during the Anglo-Boer War neither was the area totally uninvolved as some hoped it would be at the start of the so-called ‘white man’s war’. The inhabitants and the Zululand administration became involved to a greater and lesser degree according to the ebb and flow of events in the border districts of the South African Republic and Natal and Zululand.


  1. P Warwick, Black people and the South African War 1899-1902 (Johannesburg, 1983), pp.6 & 15; B Farwell, The Great Boer War (London, 1976), p.40; SJ Maphalala, The participation of the Zulus in the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902 (MA Unizul, 1978), p.35.
  2. Warwick, Black people and South African War, p.2l.
  3. Maphalala, Participation of Zulus in Anglo-Boer War, pp.29-30 & 33.
  4. S B Spies, Methods of barbarism? Roberts and Kitchener and civilians in the Boer Republics, January 1900-May 1902 (Cape Town, 1977), p. 155; L S Amery, The Times history of the war in South Africa 1899-1902 vol II (London, 1903), pp. 138-139.
  5. Natal Archives Depot, Pietermaritzburg (NAD), Secretary for Native Affairs (SNA) 1/4/7, Confidential papers, magisterial reports, 1899-1902: CR 166/1899, 27.10.1899; Warwick, Black people and South African War, pp.15 & 76.
  6. NAD, SNA 1/4/7: CR 163/1899, 26.10.1899.
  7. Spies, Methods of barbarism?, p.291.
  8. T V Bulpin, Shaka’s country (Cape Town, 1952), p.244; Warwick, Black people and South African War, pp.82-83; NAD, SNA 1/4/7: CR 196/1899, 2.11.1899, and magisterial records of the Lower Umfolozi district (EPI) 5/1/13, Correspondence and other papers, 1899-1900: LU 617/1899, 8.l1.1899.
  9. NAD, SNA 1/4/7: CR 198/1899, 9.11.1899.
  10. Ibid.: CR 272/1899, 22.12.1899.
  11. Ibid.: CR 58/1899, 13.9.1899, and CR 233/1899,28.11.1899.
  12. Warwick, Black people and South African War, p.83.
  13. Amery, The Times history, vol III (London, 1906), pp.100 & 329-330.
  14. NAD, Magisterial records of the Mthonjaneni district (1/MEL) 5/1/13, Correspondence and other papers, 1899-1902: PB 14/1900, 2.2.1900; J H Breytenbach, Geskiedenis van die Tweede Vryheidsoorlog in Suid-Afrika 1899-1902: Die stryd in Natal vol III (Pretoria, 1973), pp. 283-284 & 385; Warwick, Black people and South African War, p. 83; Amery, The Times history vol III, p. 533; Maphalala, Participation of Zulus in Anglo-Boer War, pp. 46-5l.
  15. Warwick, Black people and South African War, p.85.
  16. NAD, SNA 1/4/7: CR 126/1900, 2.2.1900, and CR 140/1900, 19.2.1900.
  17. Warwick, Black people and South African War, p. 85; F. Addison, The family of Dr W H Addison (Pinetown, 1959), p.28.
  18. Warwick, Black people and South African War, p.84; NAD, SNA 1/4/7: CR 10/1900, 1.1.1900.
  19. Warwick, Black people and South African War, p.87.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid., p.88; Maphalala, Participation of Zulus in Anglo-Boer War, pp. 64-65 & 83; NAD, SNA 1/6/25, Papers relating to the actions of Colonel Bottomley 1901-1902: pp.1-15, and 1/Mel 3/2/8, Circular from RM & CC: PB 515/1901, 6.6.1901.
  22. NAD, SNA 1/6/25: pp 1-15, and.l/Mel 3/2/8, Circular from RM & CC: PB 515/1901, 6.6.1901.
  23. Ibid., SNA, 1/6/25: pp.2-3; Warwick, Black people and South African War, p.88; Maphalala, Participation of Zulus in Anglo-Boer War, pp.57-59.
  24. NAD, SNA 1/6/25: p.15.
  25. Ibid., Report of evidence given by C. Saunders: p.32, and 1/Mel 3/2/8: PB 515/1901, 6.6.1901; Warwick, Black people and South African War, pp. S8-90; Maphalala, Participation of Zulus in Anglo-Boer War, p.82.
  26. NAD, SNA 1/6/25: p. 12; Maphalala, Participation of Zulus in Anglo-Boer War, p.71.
  27. NAD. 1/Mel 3/2/8, Correspondence from C A Wheelwright, 28.4.1901; H W Wilson, With the flag to Pretoria: a history of the Boer War 1899-1900 (London, 1901), pp. 468-469; Bulpin, Shaka’s country, p.262.
  28. D M Moore, General Louis Botha’s second expedition to Natal during the Anglo-Boer War, September-October 1901 (Cape Town, 1979), pp. 38-40; T E Fielding, A doctor’s narrative of the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902 (Ms Killie Campbell Museum Library, Durban), p. 21; S Kruger, Goodbye Dolly Gray: the story of the Boer War (London, 1967), p.446; Amery, The Times history, vol V, (London, 1907), p.340.
  29. Moore, Botha’s second expedition, p. 36-38 & 43; Wilson, With the flag to Pretoria, pp.650-651; Amery, The Times history, vol V, pp.342-343.
  30. Moore, Botha’s second expedition, pp. 37-38.
  31. Ibid., p.52; Wilson, With the flag to Pretoria, p.659; Amery, The Times history, vol V, p.344.
  32. Moore, Botha’s second expedition, pp. 54 & 56-57; Amery, The Times history, vol V, pp. 344-345; Wilson, With the flag to Pretoria,.659.
  33. Moore, Botha’s second expedition, pp. 57-58; Wilson, With the flag to Pretoria, pp.659-660; Amery, The Times history, vol V, pp.346-347.
  34. Moore, Botha’s second expedition, pp. 59& 62; Wilson, With the flag to Pretoria, pp. 661-662; Amery, The Times history, vol V, p.348; Fielding, A doctor’s narrative, p.29.
  35. Moore, Botha’s second expedition, pp.63-64; Kruger, Goodbye Dolly Gray, p.447.
  36. Moore, Botha’s second expedition, pp.67-68; Amery, The Times history, vol V, p. 348; Kruger, Goodbye Dolly Gray, p.448.
  37. Moore, Botha’s second expedition, pp.69 & 71; Wilson, With the flag to Pretoria, pp.665-666; Amery, The Times history, vol V, pp.348-349.
  38. Moore, Botha’s second expedition, p. 71; Wilson, With the flag to Pretoria, pp.665-666; Amery, The Times history, vol V, p. 349.
  39. Moore, Botha’s second expedition, p.71; Kruger, Goodbye Dolly Gray, p. 448.
  40. Moore, Botha’s second expedition, p.76.
  41. Ibid., pp. 77-78; Wilson, With the flag to Pretoria, p.668; Amery, The Times history, vol V, pp. 349-350.
  42. Moore, Botha’s second expedition, pp.78-80; Amery, The Times history, p. 351.
  43. Warwick, Black people and South African War, p.91; Maphalala, Participation of Zulus in Anglo-Boer War, pp. 118-119.
  44. Warwick, Black people and South African War, p.91; Maphalala, Participation of Zulus in Anglo-Boer War, pp. 118-119; Spies, Methods of barbarism?, p.291; Bulpin, Shaka’s country, p.262; T. Pakenham, The Boer War (London, 1979), p.567.
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