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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 January, 2004, 18:35 GMT
British and Zulus mark battles
Re-enactment of the Battle of Isandhlwana
Actors and Zulu warriors armed with spears re-enacted the battle
British and Zulu officials have gathered in South Africa to mark the 125th anniversary of one of Britain's heaviest military defeats.

Some 1,500 British soldiers were killed as they were defeated in the 1879 battle of Isandhlwana.

On the same day, 145 South Wales Borderers held off an army of Zulu warriors in the battle of Rorke's Drift - immortalised by the 1963 film, Zulu.

Re-enactments of the battles featured at the start of a weekend of events.

Mutual respect

Some 300 Zulu warriors dressed in leopard and cattle skins and armed with makeshift spears faced about 35 actors in red coats to re-enact the battle of Isandhlwana.

They staged two pivotal events during the battle, to give the 3,000 spectators an idea of the Zulu might and tactics.

The Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini used the opportunity to ask Britain to pay compensation for the invasion 125 years ago.

The ceremonies were also attended by the Premier of the Kwazulu-Natal region, Dr Lionel Mtshali, and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who played the Zulu King Cetewayo in the film "Zulu".

It means more to the Zulus as a nation, but it means an awful lot to the Royal Regiment of Wales
Welsh First Minister
Rhodri Morgan
Britain's representives included Welsh First Minister Rhodri Morgan, and representatives of the British Army.

Speaking from the Isandhlwana battlefield, Mr Morgan told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the events were being held in a spirit of reconciliation and mutual respect.

"It means more to the Zulus as a nation, but it means an awful lot to the Royal Regiment of Wales - the successor regiment to the Borderers," he said.

"It is also important because there is mutual training of officer cadets and so on between the Regiment of Wales and the 121 Regiment in the South African defence forces, which is effectively the Zulu regiment.

An 1882 'Illustrated London News' drawing of the aftermath of the Battle of Rorke's Drift
Rorke's Drift was defended by 145 men against thousands of Zulus

"I felt there was something to be said for seeing something for the future and something for the present as well as something for those people interested in the heritage and so on."

The two battles followed a British attempt to force the Zulu army to disband by sending a 5,000-strong British force into Zululand on 11 January, 1879.

Some 2,000 Zulus and 1,500 British soldiers died at Isandhlwana while 450 Zulus and 17 Britons lost their lives at the subsequent Rorke's Drift battle.

Seven Victoria Crosses were awarded to the Borderers for the defence of Rorke's Drift - the largest number awarded to a regiment for a single action - and four other Victoria Crosses were awarded to other regiments for their role in the two battles.

The British eventually defeated the Zulu army at the Battle of Ulundi and divided Zululand into 13 separate states.

Mr Morgan said: "My opposite number, Dr Mtshali, said the ceremonies 'would close the circle for us as Zulus'."

The BBC's Barnaby Phillips
"The Zulus still boast of that victory"

Recognition for 'Zulu' graves
12 Nov 03  |  Nottinghamshire
Zulu treasure in garage
13 Jan 03  |  England
Rorke's Drift medals on show
07 Dec 99  |  Wales


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