1838 - The night before the storm
by Herman Labuschagne

Eden Express Article, 15 December 2013


I write these thoughts at the hour of midnight, with only the old mantelpiece clock ticking slowly. I have been standing outside for a while, listening to the sounds of the night, while a ghostly moon glided through the clouds. My thoughts were back on a night like this one, 175 years ago.


Upon the plains of Zululand the laager was in distress. The animals inside the wagon ring were restless for they knew they were surrounded by danger. In fact, the 470 men who had to fight the next day were outnumbered more than 63 to 1. And on top of it, a deadly fog had settled upon the land. This was the worst of all calamities – a fog that renders gunpowder useless. That night, the pioneers knew that only a miracle could save them from extinction. And so the pioneers sought one – they took a solemn vow and made a deal with God.


On the 16th of December 1838 the Battle of Blood River was fought. Several things happened on that day that cannot be explained. One of them was the fact that despite the penetrating fog, their gunpowder remained unaffected. The battle that followed was one of the bloodiest in our country’s history. And when it was over, the more than 30,000 warriors was an army no more.


Not only did they die in a hail of bullets, but they died at the blades of their own comrades, or drowned in the river as they ran. The Battle of Blood River stands today as one of the saddest and proudest monuments in South African history. The vow that was made that day is still remembered. As I stood beneath the moon tonight, I slowly realized – a day like this can hold no pride. Just humility for all.

Image: Wikipedia Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bloedrivier_laer.jpg