Zulu and Rhino Impressions – 1923

Posted on July 22, 2014 by Cape Rebel

From No Outspan
by Deneys Reitz

In the winter of 1923, Deneys Reitz and Jan Smuts, Cabinet and Prime Minister respectively, and comrades since Anglo-Boer War days, travelled together to Zululand on something of a holiday. In No Outspan, the third book of the published trilogy Adrift on the Open Veld, Reitz describes their meeting with ten thousand assembled Zulu warriors, and concludes with a few rhino stories and other matters for good measure, as follows.

‘Mankulumane was a magnificent savage of over ninety years, tall and erect, and every line of his heavy jowl spoke of strength and character. He had been chief counsellor to Cetewayo and Dinizulu as he was now to Solomon, and the Zulus look on him as the greatest orator of all time.

He spoke in court Zulu, a more involved language than was in everyday use, but with some knowledge of their tongue and with the help of an interpreter I was able to follow him.

He played upon his audience in masterly fashion. One moment he worked them into a rage and whole batches of warriors sprang to their feet to glower at their hereditary foes across the common border; then by a dexterous turn he sent them rocking with laughter at some witty tale of cattle or the chase.

Next, in lowered tones, he spoke of the former glories of the Zulu people, of the spirits of the dead and of great battles of the past, and when he chided them for their quarrels they sank their heads between their knees and rocked and moaned in unison.

What struck me most in his peroration was his reference to Dinizulu, his former lord.

Dinizulu was sentenced to prison in 1906 by the Natal Courts for alleged complicity in the Bambata rising. Many people at the time doubted the justice of the verdict, and an advocate uncle of mine, Mr W P Schreiner, went to great personal expense to defend him, free of charge, in a trial that lasted for months. In 1910, when General Botha became Prime Minister of the Union, he released Dinizulu who died soon after. His conviction and imprisonment are still deeply resented by the tribes.

Mankulumane had been at Dinizulu's burial and, referring to it in his speech, said: “I am not an Usutu. I belong to the M’Gangkwe tribe. We were conquered by Panda. But the Usutus, once we submitted, gave us their trust. Although we had fought against them, I rose to high honour, even to being chief counsellor of their kings. Throughout many wars that confidence, once given, was never withdrawn.

“But see how the white man treated Dinizulu! He submitted to them and they pretended to accept his word, but it was make-believe. When Bambata rose at Nkandhla forest they, whilst lulling the king with soft words, surrounded him. He lies dead of a broken heart.”

Mankulumane ended in slow measured tones, and there was dead silence as he finished. All of us were impressed by what he said, and some of us perhaps a little ashamed.

Then came a war dance, each tribe in its own territory. It was magnificent, but we were relieved when it was over without a breach of the peace. We returned on horseback to Nongoma and the great impis marched off in clouds of dust.

Next morning we continued the homeward journey, passing several European villages on the way. At one of these the people told us that a white rhino had recently paid them a visit. There are two kinds in Zululand, the white and the black. The black rhino is smaller and more vicious than the square-lipped variety. Both are shortsighted and inclined to charge at anything they scent but cannot clearly see. On this occasion the white rhino walked through several garden lots, coming away with a tangle of fencing-wire around his head. Then he entered the village and lumbered down the street. Seeing the open door of a cottage, he put his head inside and dislodged the electric bell and battery, both of which hung on the horn of his nose when he backed out. Unperturbed by this, he ambled into a yard and collected a clothes line and the family washing, with all of which he disappeared into the forest beyond. As he went the electric bell made contact and started to ring, while the fencing wire still trailed behind, and the multicoloured garments fluttered along his flanks like a battle ship on gala day.

A Zululand game ranger told me he was once walking along a path, with a piccanin behind him, when they saw a white rhino lying asleep in a clearing. The piccanin ran ahead and kicked the rhino in the ribs. He started angrily to his feet, but on seeing his tiny aggressor he gave a snort of disgust and moved off.

We went via Eshowe and Melmoth, and we passed the spot where Dingaan’s capital had stood. Under a rude cairn lay the bones of Piet Retief and his men, who were murdered there in 1836.

Further on we went by the place where the Prince Imperial, son of that upstart Napoleon III, was killed by the Zulus. I had seen his mother, the Empress Eugénie, in 1917 at Aldershot. She was then old and shrunken, but my father had seen her in the heyday of her youth at the Paris Exhibition, and he told me she had been a very beautiful woman.

When we reached the Natal railway line, a special train was ready for us and we returned to Pretoria in July 1923.’

Posted in English