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Friday, January 22, 1999 Published at 21:55 GMT

World: Africa

Brits and Zulus back on battlefield

Both sides are keen to remember their shared history

British soldiers and Zulus have re-enacted battle marking the 120th anniversary of one of the British army's worst defeats.

BBC South Africa correspondent Jeremy Vine: "This day has meant different things to different people" (BBC Nine O'Clock News)
On 22 January 1879, on the battlefield of Isandhlwana in modern South Africa, an estimated 1,500 soldiers of the 24th regiment of the Welsh Battalion died at the hands of Zulu warriors wielding spears and cow-hide shields.

Only six members of the regiment survived.

[ image: Isandhlwana as it was then ...]
Isandhlwana as it was then ...
The successors of those who fought on both sides met to remember their shared history and those who fell.

A new memorial to the 2,000 Zulu dead was unveiled near the British memorial erected in 1914.

Around 120 members of the Royal Regiment of Wales travelled to the battlefield in the east of the country. They set up camp and some 3,000 Zulus joined them for the commemoration.

Shared heritage

[ image: ... and as it is today]
... and as it is today
Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi joined Field Marshal Lord Vincent, a former UK Vice Chief of Defence Staff and head of the Royal Artillery, for the occasion.

King Zwelithini, clad in traditional dress, said the Zulus subsequent defeat by the British "laid the foundations.... for the oppression of our people."

Greg Barrow reports on a historic meeting on the battlefield of Isandhlwana
Many of the Zulus who took part in the official ceremonies - dressed in traditional leopard-skin and goat-hair regalia - are soldiers in the modern South African army. They say the British are now welcome to return as friends.

Close relationship

[ image: Zulu warriors have given a warm welcome to former foes]
Zulu warriors have given a warm welcome to former foes
This time, the British brought not guns and imperial aspirations, but pencils, shirts and footballs as gifts for the local schools.

Commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Iain Cholerton said the march back to the battlefield was a very emotional experience. He said he had seen grown men cry as they heard about their regiment's defeat.

Many of the soldiers came from the same Welsh valleys and villages as the men who fought in 1879.

He said: "We have developed over the years a very close relationship with the Zulus, and for us to return as friends to the battlefield where our former battalion was annihilated is a tremendous feeling."

[ image: Both sides are keen to heal the wounds of the past]
Both sides are keen to heal the wounds of the past
The Anglo-Zulu War began 10 days before the battle, when British troops under Lieutenant-General Frederic Augustus invaded Zululand in an attempt to suppress the 40,000-strong Zulu forces of King Cetshwayo.

Military historians say the 19th century Zulus were among the most fearsome and disciplined infantry fighting forces ever seen.

On 22 January, around 20,000 Zulu warriors crept up on British soldiers camped out at Isandhlwana. By the afternoon, after a fierce battle, the British had been all but wiped out. The defeat became the subject of the film, Zulu Dawn, starring Burt Lancaster, Peter O'Toole and Sir John Mills.

Bitter fighting

[ image: The Welsh soldiers have set up a new camp on the battlefield]
The Welsh soldiers have set up a new camp on the battlefield
Later on the same day, a force of about 4,000 Zulus attacked the small British outpost of about 140 soldiers at Rorke's Drift, expecting a swift victory.

Hours of bitter hand-to-hand fighting followed, and the Zulu forces eventually retreated. The battle went some way to restoring dented British imperial pride.

Eleven of the defenders were awarded the Victoria Cross, the largest number to receive the medal in a single action.

It was not until 29 March at the Battle of Khambula, that the tide finally turned in favour of the British. By July, Zulu forces were finally crushed and King Cetshwayo was forced to surrender.

As the battle cries rang out across Isandhlwana 120 years on, both sides hoped the lessons of history would bring reconciliation and heal the wounds of the past.

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