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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

Print version ISSN 0041-4751

Abstract

GROBLER, Jackie. Afrikaner and Zulu perspectives on the Battle of Blood River, 16 December 1838. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2010, vol.50, n.3, pp. 363-382. ISSN 0041-4751.

The purpose of this article is to investigate the divergent ways in which Afrikaner and Zulu commentators have treated the events of the Battle of Blood River, and also how interpretations have changed in the course of years and generations. This battle is a controversial event in South African history and an impressive number of studies on it have been produced. The battle furthermore figures prominently in Zulu oral tradition. Each report represents a standpoint. There is no single, generally accepted Afrikaner perspective and indeed neither a unitary Zulu viewpoint. The mere fact that appreciably more studies of the battle by authors who can be regarded as Afrikaners (or who regard themselves as such) than studies by Zulus have appeared over the years, means that there are more detailed and extensive Afrikaner than Zulu perspectives. As a result more attention is given in the article to Afrikaner than to Zulu viewpoints. The article also provides a broad overview of the events that led to the Battle of Blood River as well as the events of the battle itself and of its consequences. This will assist a reader who only has limited knowledge of the events to follow the analysis of perspectives. It is noticeable that the opinions of Afrikaners and Zulus on numerous important aspects, including the course and the outcome of the battle, often concur. There are nevertheless differences which are indicated in the article. It is pointed out in the article that previous studies, especially in Afrikaans, have tended to be extremely one-sided and offensive towards the Zulus, but that later generations of writers tended to reveal empathy for the position in which the Zulu monarch Dingane found himself by the end of 1838. Furthermore, earlier Afrikaans writers tended to overlook the military sophistication of the Zulu army that participated in the battle. Probably the biggest change in Afrikaner perspectives occurred from the 1970s onwards. Whereas previous generations of Afrikaans authors tended to ascribe the Voortrekker victory to divine intervention, latter day Afrikaans historians focused on factors of a more mundane nature. Secondly, earlier Afrikaans authors tended to interpret the outcome of the battle as a victory of Christianity over barbarism - a perspective that has now largely disappeared from Afrikaans studies. The conclusion reached in the article is that the final word on Blood River will probably never be spoken - history is by nature a subject of changing perspectives.

Keywords : Voortrekkers; Great Trek; Blood River; Afrikaners; Zulus; Dingane; Andries Pretorius; waggon laager; horse commando; amabutho; covenant; divine intervention; Dingaan's Day (Day of the Covenant).

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