Wandering Through South Africa – Part 7

Day 11 was a lovely sunny day as most of them have been.  We called to Talana Museum to fetch our guide and off to Blood River about 30 kilometres away which I suppose makes Dundee an ideal centre for touring the battlefields.  I can hardly believe that warring factions over 100 years ago could have come up with this policy of centering all their squabbles in an easy arc round the town.

The Boers had decided to give the Zulu a lesson after 60 or 70 of their ilk were murdered by the Zulus in 1838 by tricking a peace party to lay down their arms at a peace conference and then slaying the whole party and then the Zulu king sent out his impis and killed another 500 men, women and children in local Boer camps.  470 Voortrekkers assembled at Wasbank where we had dinner two nights previously at Sarie Mehl’s house, under the command of Andries Pretorius.  They set out in 49 0x-drawn wagons for the Zulu encampment on the Ncome River and practiced lagering every night for a week.  Lagering means the drawing of wagons etc together into a protective circle.  They reached the river and set their lager up on high ground and tempted 15,000-20,000 Zulus to attack.  Each Voortrekker had two muskets and a black servant to load the one just fired.  They killed 3000 Zulu with only three of their rank slightly wounded, the river ran red with blood, hence the name of the battle.  Peace was declared and more or less lasted for 40 years.

It is a proud moment in Boer history and the monument there is massive consisting of a rehash of the original lager with the 49 wagons and three guns finished in bronze and gathered in a circle.  It is quite an amazing sight as you approach with the Zulus having built their own monument across the river.  A bridge between the two was mooted but neither side would have it.  It all happened 166 years ago.  Talk about Northern Ireland and the orange and the green.  Memories certainly rule in this spot.

Back to Talana Museum and lunch and another tour of the parts of the museum we had previously missed.  It really is that big you could spend a few days touring round it.  Then it was back to Lennox for our last night on this lovely farm.   By now the five of us had gelled sufficiently to nod each morning at breakfast.  Flash Harry was boasting he had used up his third memory card having taken 3000 photographs so far, Boyling looked at him askance and took another bottle of Castle from the crate,  Mad Mullingar was mithered with couriers, stuff he had left behind him in various places was turning up and now as he had brought so much stuff on the road he could not fit everything into his cases and he was trying to off load his dirty underwear to any fool who felt sorry for him.  The Colonel, officer and a gentleman that he is, promised to take the most of it but by god it did smell.  I was the only one who had kept up to date with his dhobi and I resonated freshness and violets.  Boyling and Flash had given theirs to the Zulu women on the farm and they had been ripped off with these good ladies wanted all of two rand to clean and iron their nearly two weeks dhobi, all of 15 cents in Euro money.

We had our last drink at Lennox, packed our bags and slept for tomorrow would be another day and it should be Day 12 by my reckoning.

Day 12 and a good day began with our last breakfast, we then settled our mess bills with Dirk and bade him goodbye, a smashing fellow but not taking a dram is a severe disadvantage in our company.

We headed south towards Ladysmith, we had a destination the Nambeti Game reserve at Elandslaagte, the site of a battle before Ladysmith in October 1899.  The 1st Devons and 1st Manchesters attack put the Boers to flight and General French’s cavalry finished them off with sword and lance.  The only plus for Britain in those days.  The victors were recalled to Ladysmith and that is where they stayed for three months until Reverse Buller relieved them.  We found a small graveyard here by the side of the railway track it contained the graves of a few hundred soldiers, victims of enteric which ravaged the ranks at the end of the siege and after the relief.  There were four Connaught Rangers buried there who had died at Modder Spruit, 893 Pte R Gill who died on 27th March 1900, 2058 Sgt T McGarry who died on 4th April 1900, 4799 Pte George James Dowler who had been wounded at Harts Hill but had died on April 23rd 1900 and 2014 Pte R Gough of the 5th Battalion who had died on 1st May 1900 and had come over in a draft of 216 men and three officers on 30th January 1900.  The poor lad did not have long in South Africa.

After this we visited the Boer Memorial for this battle situated high  The monument was in a hell of a state and because it was difficult to access seems not to have been discovered by the authorities.  Grave stones had been turned over and the ground beneath disturbed.  The problem is a social one when you keep ignorant indigenous people on or below the poverty line.  They have to make money where they can, scrap iron is one of their ways.  They also believe that a man’s riches are buried with them, little did they know that the poor old burghers buried here did not have a pot to piss in when they died.

We eventually landed at Nambiti and as I think about it I must have lost a day somewhere because we were at another Game Reserve in Dundee owned by the Klusener family, a big construction outfit, famous for Lance Klusener the South African cricketer.  We went because it was next to Dirk’s place.  It was a freezing cold night and the boys wanted to sit up top in the vehicle while I was forced into the freezing cold cab of this monster 4×4, we saw the usual stuff and a few hippopotami if that is the plural but one animal is like another to me I have no interest, so that is why I forgot about the experience.  One interesting thing is that on our way back from our circuit, it was a black night, we could see a torch flashing in the distance, when we came close, a solitary figure came into view.  It was this man’s job to patrol the inside of the security fence looking for poachers breaking through, all night long he would tramp this solitary path.  Better him than me I thought.

So we could be on Day 13 now not 12 as I suggested before, how things fly.  Well Nambiti is in another league, security is massive.  There are lots of dangerous animals on their land and I suppose onlookers need protecting.  However to my mind I have no interest in enclosed animals, they remind me so much of the enclosed whites of South Africa, hiding behind high fences with the backing of visiting security guards.  By going to Nambiti I am just following our tour organiser, to me it is somewhere to put my head down and what a luxurious head down it is.  We were met at the car park by our personal game reserve guide and brought down to our lodge or hotel, where we were offered warm towels to wipe the dust of travel from our faces and a glass of fresh lemonade and given the keys to our tents.  We are in Springbok Lodge which has about 20 tents scattered round it.  In this case tent is a misnomer albeit that is what it is.  It is a raised structure 1.5 metres off the ground with a wooden floor, the superstructure is canvas, as is the roof but inside is sheer luxury.  The floor area is  10 metres by 5 metres approx and as you walk in on the right are two armchairs and a side table with a decanter of sherry poised delicately on top, in front of you is a bed the size of a 5 aside football pitch with a mirrored headboard incorporating an air conditioning unit.  Behind the bed are the facilities, a large porcelain bath, two wash hand basins, a flush toilet and a large dressing table 3 metres long and through a door at the rear a rather large outside shower protected by a bamboo screen from prying eyes.  To the left of the entrance door is a snack station, tea,coffee, biscuits etc.  The whole a luxurious affair suitable for the likes of a Connaught Ranger on leave.

After lunch of barbecued meats, salads and vegetables we relaxed over a beer and about 4.00pm the lads went off on a three hour game drive.  The reserve is vast and of thousands of hectares in extent and contains all indigenous animals, however I chose the pen and paper drive and sat down to write this report.  The boys unless they are eaten by lions will be back at 7.00pm. I am going to read, write and snooze.  The boys did return full of talk of rhinoceros, hippo, lions, leopards, giraffe, elephants and all forms of antelope and zebra.  While they were gone a massive thunderstorm hit the area, lightening in all its anger lit up the darkened sky and me in my secure, dry, warm, snug tent felt a tinge of pity for my fellow travellers as I settled down in my vast bed, poured another sherry from the decanter and tried to forget their travails.  The rain stopped at about 6.00pm and I walked up to the lodge for a refreshing and much needed apero and waited for my returning and no doubt soaking friends.

They returned with brave faces and discovered while they were away the staff of the lodge had gone to their tents and filled each bath with hot water and sprinkled the petals of many flowers on the surface of the water.  They enjoyed this unexpected soak and dried out over a beer or in Mullingar’s case a bottle of Jameson.  The colonel happy not to have to say mass this evening reached for the wine and kept on reaching.  We had dinner and retired early to our individual boudoirs and gave the decanters a bashing.  What is included should be consumed.  We slept until a probable Day 14 arrived.  Boyling and Flash were up at five o’clock for the early morning drive, Welsh men and sheep come to mind.  They returned, we had breakfast and we eschewed this luxury and hit the road after a very satisfying breakfast.

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