Shaka Zulu the Military Leader


Shaka kaSenzangakhona, the Zulu king who ruled a large chunk of modern day South Africa in the early 19th century, would probably be amused to know some historians view him as a great military leader. In a book by Michael Lanning, ‘The 100 Most Influential Military Leaders’, Shaka features alongside influential figures such as Winston Churchill and Fidel Castro and is ranked at number fifty-nine.

Shaka lived in the south-eastern part of Africa between the Drakensberg mountains and the Indian Ocean. This area was populated by many independent chiefdoms and under his rule Shaka was able to unite over a hundred of these chiefdoms into the Zulu Kingdom. Shaka was able to grow his army, in the first year of his command, from three hundred and fifty men, to more than two thousand and at the height of his leadership, he ruled over two hundred and fifty thousand people. Part of his success was due to his policy of offering his defeated foes a choice to either join his ranks or die. He used intense training methods to prepare his men for the fitness and strength needed for battle and he replaced the light throwing-spear with a broad-bladed stabbing knife. The introduction of the “buffalo” tactic, which consisted of an attack on the enemy from four sides, made Shaka’s disciplined, regimented armies the most feared force on the southern tip of Africa. He is also remembered for transforming the Zulu community by giving them pride, determination and passion.

Shaka was such an impressive leader that his radical military innovations survived generations after his assassination at the age of forty-one. Cetshwayo, a later Zulu king, used his methods to defeat the British army at Isandlwana in 1879, about 50 years after Shaka’s death.

Today Shaka’s reputation is still remembered and respected. A statue of this great Zulu leader can be seen overlooking the airport at Durban, the coastal city in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa and millions of school children still hear stories of this remarkable Zulu leader in their history lessons, and are still filled with awe and admiration.


Birth of the Zulu Nation


The largest indigenous linguistic group of people in southern Africa is the Nguni. This group includes the Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi and Ndebele people. Independent clans within this group grew like enlarged families and the right to take on the position of chief flows through the original male line. This means that the chief ascends to the position through a clearly defined traditional pattern. The son of the chief’s main wife will be next in line and this tradition is called Nkosikazi. This custom is still followed today, as is polygamy, but intermarriage in a clan is never permitted as members of the clan are seen as brothers and sisters.

The word Zulu, which means ‘sky’ was believed to be heard for the first time in the 1620s. Oral tradition says that Zulu was the name given by a couple, Malandela and Nozinja to their son. They lived in an area which later became known as Zululand (or in the Zulu language, KwaZulu) and today is a region of South Africa called KwaZulu-Natal.

The story tells of Zulu growing up to become his mother’s favorite son. His eldest brother, Qwabe, became jealous of Zulu. To protect her son, Nozinja, with the help of a headman (Induna) called Mpungose, took Zulu away and he later formed his own clan. His brother established a clan of his own too, bearing his name, Qwabe. Through the generations the bloodline that links these two clans has weakened and today it is acceptable to intermarry between these two groups of people.

Not much is known about Zulu the man, but in the sixth dynasty of his clan, in the late 1700s, Nandi, the third wife of Chief Senzangakona gave birth to the most well-known Zulu chief, Shaka Zulu. Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, the current reigning King of the Zulu nation, is a direct descendant of Shaka and still plays an important traditional role in the lives of approximately 11 million Zulu people in South Africa today. His role is defined in the South African constitution under the Traditional Leadership Clause as the custodian of the Zulu tradition.

Although KwaZulu-Natal is the spiritual heartland of the Zulu nation, the Zulu language is spoken across South Africa, especially in Gauteng, the most populous provincial area and financial center of the country as well as in small towns across the Mpumalanga region.

George Rex, Father of Knysna


On our journey back along the Garden Route, we arrived in Knysna along Main Street and followed Long Street down to a sign sending us down a potholed sand road.  We thought we had gone wrong until we got out of the car and spotted a fenced enclosure. Hidden in the overgrown garden was a gravestone, and not just any gravestone… here lay the founder of Knysna.

The Old Place

The Old Place

George Rex was born in London in 1765.  He moved to the Cape Colony and held many important positions before buying his farm Melkhoutkraal in the Knysna district.  He became the postmaster of Plettenberg Bay and later a timber exporter, with thirty five slaves and four hundred woodcutters. He was instrumental in the development of the harbour which encouraged naval and commercial ships to drop their anchors here in the bay.

But that’s just boring! We have heard similar stories of successful men who made an impact on the development of towns and cities across the world. Is there not a juicier story?  Oh yes there is!

George Rex was rumoured to be the illegitimate son of George III.  He secretly married a Quaker girl called Hannah Lightfood.  She and her son George were kept a secret and when George reached adulthood he was banished to the Cape Colony with a promise never to marry, thus  never to produce a legitimate heir and lay claim to the British throne.

And from there the story runs sort of parallel to the story above, and George settled in the area that is Knysna today. He apparently received many titled and influential international visitors.  He also kept his word and never married, but had four children with a slave he had freed and nine more with one of her daughters from a previous liaison with a slave master.

But recent research and genetic testing has disproved the royal lineage, and Knysna has to settle for a Londoner as their founder and not an heir to the British throne.  Sorry about that…

George Rex

After spending thirty five years in Knysna, George Rex was laid to rest on his farm in a spot called the Old Place.  I was a little sad to see his grave so hidden and uncared for. I feel he is a bit forgotten, and I really do think there should be more of a ‘song and dance’ to celebrate what Mr Rex did to lay the foundations for the beautiful town of Knysna.

Bloukrans Bridge Bungy


We had left Stilbaai at dawn, and hit the N2 heading east.  About an hour out of Knysna, along the coast, and near Nature’s Valley, we crossed from the Western into the Eastern Cape over the Bloukrans Bridge.  This incredible arch bridge is 216m (709 ft) above the Bloukrans River, which makes it the perfect location for a bungy jump!

Nah, not for me, but for the thousands of adrenalin junkies who visit ‘Face Adrenalin’ to test their bravery…or their stupidity…here, at the world’s highest commercial bungy jump.

They have a few records here too – the world’s oldest bungy jumper threw himself from the underbelly of the brige in 2010 at 96 years of age! And Kevin Scott Huntly bungy jumped 105 times in 24 hours to raise money for local communities in 2011. Just crazy!

But what a location! This south-eastern coast of South Africa has the mildest climate in the country as temperatures don’t really drop below 10 degrees C in the winter nor do they go much above 28 in the summer.  This of course adds to the beauty of this part of the country – forests, nature reserves, mountains, rivers, lagoons, wetland, and the most diverse collection of fauna and flora – giving it the name of the Garden Route.

So, we just watched the crazy people jumping from the bridge and enjoyed the crafts being sold in the car park…this was the most dare-devil we were going to be…

Tail Fat, White Rose & the Lighthouse


The ‘Pharos of Alexandria’ inspired Cape Agulhas Lighthouse which dominates the southernmost tip of Africa.  It is a striking structure that stands 27 metres (89 ft) high, is elegant and proud, and I was instantly drawn to it.

It is the third lighthouse to be built in South Africa and the second-oldest still in operation after Green Point, in Cape Town.  Can you imagine the stories this building could tell?

The treacherous seas around this southern-most tip of Africa took many lives, and it became a priority to save the ships from crashing into the rocks as more and more traders and adventurers were rounding the Cape heading for Asia and the Far East.

Funds to build the lighthouse were raised from India, the Philippines, St Helena and England.  Along with funds from the government of the Cape Colony the money was pooled and construction was completed in December 1848. In total, it cost £15,871 for the whole project, which was an enormous amount of money in the mid 1800s.

On the 1st March 1849, the light was lit for the first time, and was fuelled using the tail-fat of sheep. Interestingly this fat comes from 25% of the world’s sheep population as these sheep have fat or broad rumps and / or tails which help them adapt to extreme climatic conditions. Their tails were a source of fuel for cooking, warmth etc and are still considered a delicacy in some cultures. In Arabic, for example, it is called “allyah” and in Hadith, historical religious text, sheep-tail fat was considered a “cure” for sciatica (lower back pain which shoots into the legs when the sciatic nerve is aggravated). In this case, the fat was used to fuel the light for the lighthouse.

In 1906, the fuel was changed to white rose oil, which I am sure was not only effective, but no doubt smelled lovely too 😉

In 1968, the lighthouse was taken out of service, declared a national monument in 1973 and thus an opportunity for the visitor to climb to the top. Yay!

I am not scared of heights, but I am a bit anxious with narrow, steep ladders, but I was reassured when I was passed by a pregnant lady and a few small children on the way up.

Although the climb up was a bit hair-raising, as we stepped out onto the platform above, we were rewarded with a marvellous panoramic view of the Indian Ocean…

When I look out to sea I almost see the future, stretching from the present, far far into the distance, but here I look out at the past. From the top of the lighthouse, wind blowing a gale, I can almost hear, see and feel the fear the brave adventurers must have felt when their compass needles swung wildly. Along this stretch, the warm Agulhas / Mozambique Current and the cold Benguela currents collide, concealing reefs and rocky outcrops.

Here too, the Portuguese explorer, Batholomeu Diaz, who first rounded the Cape in 1488 and gave the coastline its name of Cabo L’Agulhas, found that there was no magnetic inclination here. At the Cape of Needles, magnetic and true north coincided, making navigation tricky and often led to disaster (more ships have been wrecked here than anywhere else along the South African coast).

I soaked up the salty wind, the hazy view and the isolation that is often associated with a lighthouse. I can now also understand Princess Anne’s fascination with lighthouses and her personal quest to visit all 215 lighthouses on the Scottish coast (she has just passed the half way mark).

There is a true romance surrounding a lighthouse, and more so, for me, this one.  The history of South Africa and who I am today, started way out at sea, out there is where our history was made….the brave explorers who took on the unknown…

©Dawn Denton

Where the Two Meet


For centuries mariners sought out the most daring of adventures – reaching the poles or sailing around the tips of continents. Man continues to challenge himself by trying to conquer the highest peaks, or dive to the ultimate depths of the oceans. This part of our journey paid homage to those who do, or have pushed the boundaries….

One of the most challenging sea crossings has always been the Atlantic-Indian Ocean crossing via Cape Agulhas. This Cape is less well known than Cape Point, but has a charm of its own. Here the hazardous winds became known as the legendary ‘Cape of Storms’ and were responsible for wrecking many ships making their way to the East, because here the two oceans meet. The cold Benguela current of the Atlantic Ocean and the strong, warm Mozambique/ Aghulhas current of the Indian Ocean make for a choppy sea… and this has sculptured a dramatically rugged coastline.

It was so exciting to know that we were at the southern tip of this vast continent…north of us the African continent stretches for over 4,500miles to the Mediterranean Sea. That in itself makes this a special place!

Dawn Denton©

Ostrich Bay?


Struisbaai was the perfect place to stop on the way to Cape Agulhas. The quaint, natural little harbour was where we found a little restaurant, sheltered from the wind, to enjoy the view and a taste of the sea, (and this side of Cape Agulhas, making it the Indian Ocean).

An interesting name…and it seems there are varied opinions on where it got its name.  Some believe Struisbaai means ‘strawbay’ as so many of the early fishermen originally built their cottages completely from straw and later using stone with only thatched roofs.  There is currently a church being built, with an unusual feature – a thatched roof!

Other historians believe the name comes from the Dutch word for ostrich (‘vogelstruijs’ and in Afrikaans it is ‘volstruis’). The terrain was always perfect to farm these large birds, and this may have given the village its name.

Struisbaai boasts the longest continuous stretch of white sand coastline in the Southern Hemisphere at 14km, and according to legend, Struisbaai got its name from this fact – ‘struis’ being an old Dutch word for ‘huge’.

After a fab lunch, we strolled along the harbour front and watched the stingrays ‘playing’ in the harbour (have a look at the photo below of Dan….you can see black blobs in the water. These are the stingrays).Dan enjoying the stingrays

What a little find! And such a treat to get off the beaten track and enjoy this commercially untouched fishing village…..

Dawn Denton©