Vince Crawley's Africa Blog

Isandlwana – Historic Zulu Victory in 1879

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on January 21, 2010

(Jacket cover of “Isandlwana” by Adrian Greaves, 2001, Cassell, London)

January 22 marks the anniversary of the remarkable battle of Isandlwana, which took place on a midsummer day in 1879 in the KwaZulu-Natal province of what is now South Africa. The Zulu Kingdom, its well-trained soldiers armed primarily with spears and animal-skin shields, employed masterful tactics, superior intelligence and coordinated maneuver to defeat a well-armed  but badly undermanned invading British colonial force at the foot of the ominous, sphinx-like mountain that gave the battle its name.

Except for a few dozen stragglers, an entire British force of more than 1,200 was wiped out, including more than 400 African troops serving alongside the British.

(Detail of 1879 painting, “Battle of Isandlwana,” by Charles Fripp)

 Zulu versions of the events are not as numerous as British accounts, with most of the English language sources being British interpretation.

“Ah, those red soldiers at Isandlwana, how few they were and how they fought,” said one Zulu warrior quoted a year after the battle. “They fell like stones – each man in his place.”

Muziwento, a Zulu warrior, was quoted as saying, “Some covered their faces with their hands, not wishing to see death. Some ran around. Some entered their tents. Others were indignant. Although badly wounded, they died where they stood.”

Accounts of the battle agree that the Zulu force, led by Princes Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khozalo and Mavumengwana kaMdlela Ntuli, exhibited masterful strategy and tactics. The Zulu army, numbering between 12,000 and 20,000 was well organized into an order of battle, including three corps and a reserve. Soldiers were motivated, well trained and disciplined. They used a feinting maneuver to separate a portion of the British force from the main body while using terrain, disciplined silence, and cover of darkness to maneuver the Zulu main body toward the British lines. Upon discovery by British scouts, the Zulu army immediately took the initiative with an aggressive assault that included a double flanking maneuver known as the “horns of the buffalo,” with units on either side attempting to encircle the British camp while the main body, or “chest” of the Buffalo, engaged in a massive frontal assault. The Zulu army also kept a corps in reserve, which was employed in an unsuccessful attack against the outpost at nearby Rorke’s Drift. While armed chiefly with spears at Isandlwana, the Zulu army did have several thousand old musket-style guns, which were effective once the Zulu advanced close enough for close-range combat.

Interestingly, a partial solar eclipse took place in the early afternoon, near the end the battle. It was interpreted by the Zulu fighters as an omen of their victory.

This YouTube clip appears to incorporate some footage from a 1917 South African film that was made within the lifetimes of the participants, reportedly using some Zulu War veterans, who would have been in their late 50s or early 60s.

The 1979 South African film “Zulu Dawn” depicts the battle.

The 1964 film “Zulu” depicts the related Battle of Rorke’s Drift, in which an outpost of fewer than 140 British troops held off an attack by the Zulu reserve element.

Sources: Isandlwana, by Adrian Greaves (Published 2001 by Cassell & Co., London)


Is AFRICOM Really Recolonising Africa?

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on January 12, 2010

A commentary by a South African political scientist has been getting wide circulation online the past few days. I’m posting it below in its entirety, in italics, with some of my own commentary.

Africom – Latest U.S. Bid to Recolonise Continent

January 7, 2010 by Tichaona Nhamoyebonde

African revolutionaries now have to sleep with one eye open because the United States of America is not stopping at anything in its bid to establish Africom, a highly-equipped US army that will be permanently resident in Africa to oversee the country’s imperialist interests.

[U.S. Africa Command was established October 1, 2007, and assumed responsibility for all U.S. military activity in Africa on October 1, 2008, in Pentagon ceremony attended by African diplomats posted to Washington, D.C. A follow-up ceremony October 17, 2008, in Stuttgart, Germany, was attended by representatives of the African Union (for example, see this transcript: Thus, the command is well established and resident in Germany.]

Towards the end of last year, the US government intensified its efforts to bring a permanent army to settle in Africa, dubbed the African Command (Africom) as a latest tool for the subtle recolonisation of Africa.

[What actually happened was that the headquarters of U.S. Army Africa, subordinate to U.S. Africa Command, formally began its mission in late 2009. U.S. Army Africa is based in Vicenza, Italy, and its first major exercise was Natural Fire, based in northern Uganda.]

Just before end of last year, General William E. Garret, Commander US Army for Africa, met with defence attaches from all African embassies in Washington to lure them into selling the idea of an American army based in Africa to their governments.

[Just to clarify, Major General William B. Garrett III is commander of U.S. Army Africa, an Army-only headquarters based in Italy. His boss is General William E. Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), based in Stuttgart, Germany. There also is a U.S. Air Forces Africa, based in Ramstein, Germany; U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, , based in Naples, Italy; and U.S. Marine Forces Europe, based in Stuttgart. These all are planning headquarters with staff officers, not combat troops.]

Latest reports from the White House this January indicate that 75 percent of the army’s establishment work has been done through a military unit based in Stuttgart, Germany, and that what is left is to get an African country to host the army and get things moving.

[The White House source of this is not clear, nor is it clear what the 75 percent refers to. U.S. AFRICOM is fully established. The manning, half military and half civilian, has not reached 100 percent, but is well over 75 percent. The rest of the sentence suggests that we need to have our staff based in an African country to be effective. That’s not accurate. With the Internet, satellite communications and the like, we are quite effective from Germany. U.S. AFRICOM is not looking for a host country in Africa. We have a base with about 2,000 personnel in Djibouti, and that is our only base in Africa. As President Obama said in Ghana in July 2009, AFRICOM “is focused not on establishing a foothold in the continent but on confronting these common challenges to advance the security in America, in Africa, and the world.” (For a good overview of U.S. policy in Africa, see his whole speech at]

Liberia and Morocco have offered to host Africom while the Southern African Development Community (SADC)  has closed out any possibility of any of its member states hosting the US army.

[Liberia is the only country to have publicly offered to host U.S. AFRICOM. That was back in 2007 when there was much discussion on AFRICOM’s location. Approximately seven other African nations privately expressed interest in hosting the command. However, the decision was made in late 2007 for AFRICOM to remain in Germany indefinitely. The command has a mission to view Africa from a continental perspective, which would be particularly challenging if the command were based in a specific country. This is not unprecedented — our U.S. Pacific Command is based in Hawaii, our U.S. Southern Command (for Latin America) is based in Miami, Florida.]

Other individual countries have remained quiet.

Liberia has longstanding ties with the US due to its slave history while errant Morocco, which is not a member of the African Union and does not hold elections, might want the US army to assist it to suppress any future democratic uprising.

[Liberia’s complicated history is related more to freed slaves and free African Americans. It also became a destination for men and women who were aboard interdicted slave ships in the 1800s, when the trans-Atlantic slave trade became illegal. U.S. Navy ships took part in these interdictions, though never in large numbers. (For more on Liberia, see Morocco, a kingdom, is not the only country in Africa that does not hold elections for its head of state. However, the 2007 parliamentary elections were judged by international observers to be free and fair (see  Morocco holds a special place in U.S. foreign policy in that it was the first country in the world to seek diplomatic relations with the United States, back in 1777, when the U.S. was a rebel colony whose future independence was far from certain. Every year, Morocco (more…)