January 5, 2009

The Commemoration of the Vow in Perspective.

There are a few misconceptions in the West about the Day of the Vow & the battle which occurred at Ncome River. First one must remember that this battle did not occur in a vacuum as the Zulus of Dingaan first massacred the Boers including young children at Bloukrans & Saailaager after Dingaan killed Piet Retief & his delegation earlier. [1] The battle at Ncome River of December 16 is sometimes called a "massacre" but this is a rather odd term to employ when considering the fact that the local Boers were under attack therefore: what occurred was an act of war & if the Boers sat back & did nothing to defend themselves then they would have certainly been massacred themselves.

Those who commemorate this day are not commemorating the battle itself as much as they are commemorating the Vow they took prior for protection. When about 15 000 Zulus under Dingaan decided to attack the Boers numbering less than 500 camped [2] in Natal: there was no choice left to the Boers but to defend themselves.

This battle was even avoidable because Pretorius sent back some captured Zulus & told Dingaan that he was prepared to enter into negotiations [3] for peace with Dingaan if he were to restore the vacant land south of the Tugela River that he had intially offered to Piet Retief before killing him & his delegation then later the civilians at Bloukrans & Saailaager. The King's response was in the form of the now famous attack on December 16 at Ncome River.

The Great Boer Trek. From: Stephen Crane.

Quote: [ The church in Pietermaritzburg and the annual celebration of Dingaan's bear witness that they kept their pledge. They were not fighting for revenge. On three occasions the scouts brought in some captured Zulus, and Pretorius sent them back to Dingaan to say that if he would restore the land he had granted Retief he would enter into negotiations for peace. ]

Therefore: the battle at Ncome River MUST be viewed in proper context.

The point of the battle was not about "massacring" or "defeating" or conquering the proud Zulu nation. Because the Boers would have defended themselves in exactly the same way if they were being attacked by the British / German or Spanish power. Furthermore: the Boers allowed the Zulus to govern themselves in Zululand after the battle & entered into an alliance with the new Zulu King Mpande for quite some time afterwards. The Zulus were not conquered until the British came & conquered them in 1879. Long after the establishment of the major Boer Republics.

Remember also that the Boers & Zulus had reconciled & in 1840 exchanged rocks of peace in commemoration of this reconciliation. The Boers & the Zulus also later stacked rocks as a symbol of peace in 1866 at Ncome River.

Pieter Mulder noted this fact as well in an Address in Parliament. On Feb 16 2005.

Quote: [ Go and read about the relationship between the [ Boers ] and the Zulus in Natal. How, after the battle of Blood river in 1840 they handed rocks of peace to each other and in 1866 came together at Blood river and stacked rocks as a symbol of peace. How Cetswayo gave land to the Boers after they helped and protected him. The Republic of Vryheid dates from that period. ]

The Boers might have been settlers to this specific region [ in Natal ] but they were not settlers to Africa as the Boers are a homegrown / indigenous people who were formed on the Cape frontier [4] & who are a distinct entity even from the Afrikaans speakers of the Western Cape. [5] The Boers did not have an "unfair advantage" because of their weapons as they were greatly outnumbered by the Zulu warriors. It was indeed a miracle that they survived even with the crude rifles they had because one must remember that they were no where near as effective as modern day rifles. The Zulus chose to attack at a most bizarre time of day & as such miscalculated thereby giving the Boers a slight fair advantage. Fair because they still had to fight for their survival against staggering odds.

The Apartheid regime did not start the holiday of commemorating the Vow as the South African regime only STOLE / usurped & co-opted this date because the ZAR [ Transvaal Republic ] declared it a holiday back in 1865. Long before the rise of the Apartheid regime. After a time of waning commemoration of the date: the later future President Paul Kruger - as part of a Triumvirate government - restarted the commemoration of this date in 1880 when the Boers were fighting to regain their independence from Britain & when the ZAR was re-declared as an independent Boer Republic leading to the first Anglo-Boer War.

The date of the battle at Ncome River was always commemorated by the descendents of those who participated in the battle then later adopted as a public holiday in the ZAR but it was not politicized until the 20th cent when the Cape Dutch were using it as a tool to co-opt the Boers into their agenda as a British appointed surrogate ruling power of the macro State the British created with an act of legislation in the British Parliament [6] which robbed the Boers of their republics & forced them into an artificial macro State which lumped all of the region's diverse national groups under a single administration for the first time ever.

I should also point out that this was a battle which involved the Boers camped in Natal & not "Afrikaners" as the bulk of the yet to be named Afrikaners of the Western Cape had previously taunted the Boers with impending doom of their trek & with exactly the sort of scenario that they ultimately faced at Ncome River -only the Cape Dutch thought that the Boers would all die off. It is also interesting to note that not all Boers made the vow [7] for fear of the consequences should their descendents break the promise. It appears that a few Boers had some insight into what could happen if one were to later take lightly a vow made to God. Which in fact is what one did see among many about 150 years later.

While the Zulus did at times appear as a military threat again: it is important to remember that the Boers were on friendly terms with the Zulus of the Northern Natal & King Dinizulu gave a large part of northern Natal to the Boers as payment for services the Boers offered the King upon his request when he was facing trouble from a British backed Zulu segment creating disorder in his region. The Vryheid Republic of 1884 was later established there in a portion of northern Natal until its south eastern half was annexed by the British & its north western portion was absorbed into the ZAR. or Transvaal Republic. None other than Louis Botha - one of the founders of the Vryheid Republic & Boer General & Statesman & later British puppet Prime Minster - was life long friends with King Dinizulu & released him from prison after the latter was found guilty of participating in the Bambtha Rebellion.


1. The Bloukrans Massacre.

Quote: [ At about midnight on 16-17 February 1838 the Zulus began their assault on the Trekker encampments over a 9 km front along the Bloukrans River. The Zulus fell upon the sleeping Liebenbergs, Besters and de Beers near the confluence of the Umlaas River (also called the Little Murder Spruit) and the Bloukrantz Rivers. ]

2. The Battle of Blood River.

Quote: [ On the morning of the 16th December 1838, some fifteen thousand Zulu warriors charged the 460 Voortrekkers, and charged again, and again for a third time but were repulsed. ]

3. The Great Boer Trek. From: Stephen Crane.

Quote: [ The church in Pietermaritzburg and the annual celebration of Dingaan's bear witness that they kept their pledge. They were not fighting for revenge. On three occasions the scouts brought in some captured Zulus, and Pretorius sent them back to Dingaan to say that if he would restore the land he had granted Retief he would enter into negotiations for peace. ]

4. The Boers in East Africa: Ethnicity and Identity. Brian M. Du Toit. Page 1.

Quote: [ The Boers had a tradition of trekking. Boer society was born on the frontiers of white settlement and on the outskirts of civilization. As members of a frontier society they always had a hinterland, open spaces to conquer, territory to occupy. Their ancestors had moved away from the limiting confines of Cape society to settle the eastern frontier. In time this location became too restricted, and individuals and families moved north across the Orange River. ]

5. The Great Trek. Wallace Mills.

Quote: [ Trekboers certainly recognised the differences in language, religion, etc. between themselves and the British. They had certainly developed a way-of-life and a set of values that were distinctive, but they were also significantly different from people of Dutch descent in the western province areas of the Cape. The latter regarded the Trekboers as rather wild, semi-barbarous frontiersmen and the sense of common identity was limited and incomplete. ]

6. The Republic of South Africa Electoral System.

Quote: [ The South Africa Act passed by the British Parliament in 1909 merged the self-governing British colonies of the Cape, Natal, Orange River and the Transvaal into the Union of South Africa, a dominion within the British Commonwealth. ]

7. The Great Trek. Oliver Ransford. Chapter 9.

Quote: [ It is interesting to note that Alexander Biggar and the other Englishmen in the commando joined in making the vow, but that five Boers abstained for fear of God's vengeance on their descendants if in years to come they broke the promise. ]

Post Script. Due to the fact that this event is often not well understood in the West: it is often distorted & used to infer that the Boers were conquerors when in fact under Piet Retief: they had initially negotiated a peace treaty with Dingaan for the use of vacant land which he had already promised to the British prior.

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