Durban - King Goodwill Zwelithini says he wants the British royal family to compensate the Zulu kingdom for destroying his great-grandfather King Cetshwayo’s Ondini Palace more than a century ago.
He said on Tuesday the British army set the Zulu king’s main homestead in Ulundi on fire on July 4, 1879, in retaliation for defeat by Cetshwayo’s regiments at Isandlwana earlier that year.
Speaking at the sod-turning of the multimillion-rand Isandlwana Heritage Village, the king said he did not harbour any animosity against the “English emperor” for destroying the palace.
“But it would be nice if the English kingdom would one day compensate us. It should be understood that I am an enemy with them,” he said.
Historians contacted by The Mercury on Tuesday, however, expressed surprise at the king’s call, saying the destruction of Ondini was not on Queen Victoria’s orders, and that the battle at Ulundi in 1879 needed to be considered in the broader context of the war in 1879.
The project to develop the Isandlwana Battlefield is being spearheaded by the KZN Arts and Culture Trust. The National Lotteries Board donated R12.5 million for the construction of the first phase, which is expected to be opened in January.
The king said he was happy that the sod-turning was conducted a few days before the commemoration of the demise of his ancestor’s homestead.
In 1879, a Zulu army marched from Ondini to Isandlwana outside Nquthu to fight troops commanded by Lord Chelmsford. The Zulus, armed with spears and shields, were up against the Redcoats and their rifles and cannon, yet the Zulus over-ran the British in a battle on January 22 when their ammunition ran out.
The battle site would now be developed into a tourism destination with a hotel, bed-and-breakfast facilities, a service station and history museum. The king said he wanted it to be developed along world standards to rival the best.
“It would be good if the site is planned to look like Waterloo in Belgium so tourists would have a better understanding of how this war was fought,” he said.
However, drought across northern KZN remained a serious problem. The king said this would become a challenge for the new facility.
“In Zululand there is no water, in uMzinyathi there is no water, in uThungulu there is little water. This centre will need water,” he said.
KZN Arts and Culture Trust chief executive Gugu Ngcobo said the first phase would be the cultural home for the Zulu regiment and its commander-in-chief (king) would have his special house inside the centre.
“This home will have the history of black people pre-colonialism. It will tell us that before colonialism we had our own education system, scientists and linguistics.
Ngcobo said she was hopeful that the opening of the first phase would be in January to coincide with the commemoration of 200 years since King Shaka formed the Zulu nation. But she said environmentalists were delaying the construction.
“Our funder wants the handover to take place in January. I wanted the work to start even tomorrow, but we can’t because of environmental studies that are still being conducted. The latest the earthmover should start working is July,” she said.
National Lotteries Board chairman Professor Govin Reddy said the board decided to fund the development because it was where the Zulus demonstrated heroism despite lacking firearms.
“Isandlwana was a lesson of what can be done against all odds,” he said.
Noted historian and battlefield guide Ken Gillings said after his father King Mpande kaSenzangakhona’s death, King Cetshwayo moved his capital and established his second Ondini palace in what was referred to as Ulundi.
“This royal homestead was the objective of the British in 1879 and was burnt to the ground after the Battle of Ulundi on July 4, 1879.”
Regarding the king’s comments on Tuesday, Gillings noted that the British royal family did not sanction the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879; it was orchestrated by the British high commissioner in Cape Town and the commander-in-chief in South Africa, Sir Bartle Frere.
Frere, he said, pursued the former colonial secretary Lord Carnarvon’s ideal of confederation in Southern Africa.
“The British royal house was unaware of Frere’s decision to invade Zululand, so it would probably be a little unfair to expect them to compensate the Zulu people when Queen Victoria was in all likelihood unaware.”
Pam MacFadden, a historian, tour guide and curator of the Talana Museum in Dundee, said she was surprised that King Zwelithini had said the British royal family should compensate the Zulu people, because history could not be changed.
MacFadden has done field research into the military conflicts fought in KwaZulu-Natal and published four books.
“You cannot take one thing out of isolation; you cannot take the battle of Ulundi out of the whole story and say you want compensation. You have to look at the whole picture.”