"He had fought at Isandlwana"
Isandlwana, Kwazulu Natal. The rockpile marks the location of a British mass grave
Public DomainIsandlwana, Kwazulu Natal. The rockpile marks the location of a British mass grave - Credit: RAM

The Battle of Isandlwana on 22 January 1879 was the first major encounter in the Anglo Zulu War between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom.  Eleven days after the British commenced their invasion of Zululand in South Africa, a Zulu force of some 20,000 warriors attacked a portion of the British main column consisting of about 1,800 British, colonial and native troops and around 400 civilians. 

The Zulus were equipped mainly with traditional assegai iron spears and cow-hide shields, but also had a few muskets and old rifles.  The British and colonial troops were armed with the latest breech-loading rifles and artillery pieces. 

Isandlwana Zulu Memorial
Public DomainIsandlwana Zulu Memorial - Credit: RAM
Despite Britain's huge advantage in weapons technology,  the numerically superior Zulus overwhelmed the British force.  The British lost over 1,300 troops, and the Zulus around 1,000.   The crushing defeat suffered by the British at Isandlwana resulted in a much more aggressive, heavily reinforced second invasion, which saw the destruction of any hopes of a negotiated peace. 

The battle is described in Johnny Clegg’s epic song, Impi.   For Clegg's Asimbonangaa music video featuring Nelson Mandela live on stage, click here.