The tree of happiness flowers and fruits most abundantly for the creative man
Few mounts, bar Calvary, has attracted as much attention as has Majuba/Amajuba . While researching the history of that small Northern Natal town, Newcastle, I kept on finding references to the nearby eminence. I was searching the internet for images of old Newcastle with little luck, however, Majuba had been photographed, painted, etched and sketched from every angle. There were maps, panoramas, long distance views, bird’s eye views, close-ups and aerial views. Numerous comments, narratives and histories were readily accessible. There was no doubt in my mind that Majuba had been well covered in written and photographic reflection.
Now I grew up in Newcastle in the 1970’s and 1980’s – and the mountain cast an unpleasant and grim shadow all the way to our sleepy town which was under the sway of strident Afrikaaner Nationalism. For once a year on the anniversary of the battle, a large and crude celebratory gathering was held by some members of the Afrikaans community of Newcastle at Majuba. I had been brought up in an English cultural context (and although I had an Afrikaans grandmother) I found the events at Majuba very offensive. Living near Fort Amiel, I knew of all the young men whose remains lay buried the adjacent British military graveyard, some of them having perished at Majuba. A hundred years after the battle had raged on its summit, and it was still stoking the fires of nationalism.
Astoundingly – 133 years have passed and I still wander onto disturbingly nationalistic websites that are glorying and celebrating the event, as if the battle had happened yesterday. Surely nothing good can come of using war as a rallying point. Natal – as most would know, is a mountainous and hilly place. I do not believe there is any single place in the province that is not within view of some high rise – why then the fame. I would be hard pressed to know of a similar hill anywhere in the world that has captured the imaginations and attentions as this singular bump. Sure, Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil captures attention, but then it stands bizarrely and fully 396 metres from a narrow peninsula in the Atlantic Ocean. Why, I would just love to appropriate the mount for my rather geographically challenged hometown of Durban, The Bluff is hardly comparable. Mmm! Then of course there is Table Mountain in Cape Town – well, such size and scope and dimension and picture-worthiness is hard to beat. Like Mount Fujiyama near Tokyo, it is their sheer size and position that attracts so many cameras. Call it the Mount Everest equation. So what is it about Majuba, bigger than a hill and not yet a mountain? I have ruminated and gnawed on this this past month and I am now ready to say something, hopefully something new. I am also presenting all the images I found. Firstly let me place it in the landscape. This mount lies about 30 kilometres in a northerly direction from Newcastle in the Klip River County, Northern Natal, now KwaZulu Natal. It is a remnant of the once larger Orange Free State escarpment, now tilted, and mostly washed away by a thousand streams and several strong flowing rivers into the Indian Ocean. Majuba, hard-capped in a more durable stone, is a remnant of the escarpment, standing side by side with its sister Inkwelo, and isolated from the Drakensberg range. Perhaps it would have been better it it had been eroded away, for if it had, perhaps General George Pomeroy Colley would have looked for another redemptive eminence.
And so I have introduced the General, who unlike the grand ol’ Duke of York, did not march his men down the hill again. And here lies one of the many reason why the mount has such fame. And perhaps fame is not the right word; notoriety is a better word – for on the summit of this hill the young men of the British Isles were laid out sacrificially on the stone altar of Empire. Majuba says so much, for it touches on Empire and State, how the world political juggernaut came into cultural and political conflict with a rural backwater or in the South African context’ Back Veldt’. It highlights national pride and its accompanying side-kick national shame. It places emphasis on warfare and peace, on celebration and revenge. As the sun sets behind the looming presence of Majuba these past 133 years – its dark shadow falls far and wide, and here in the shade lies a lesson. Perhaps and if General Petrus Johannes Joubert and General George Pomeroy Colley had sat down over a hot cup of tea, or even a glass of Cape Brandy, they would have come to a better conclusion. I write this – for did not these two professing Christians follow the teachings of Jesus. And somewhere in the heat of the moment and the pressure from warmongering and nationalistic politicians, why did the words ‘Blessed are the Peacemakers’ not surface that warm African summer morning.
One of those caught up in the battle that 27th of February 1881 was a Times Newspaper journalist named Thomas Fortescue Carter who ran in panic for his life. Attempting to dodge death, he witnessing the carnage around him and the steady and deadly progress of the Transvaalers as their superior warcraft overwhelmed the small British Force. With bullets snapping around him, he jumped from the precipitous southern heights, and having fallen painfully, had scrambled, half-fallen to the safety of a large boulder, where he lay in its protective cover half-dead with fright. Carter related that when the shooting had eventually died down, he and a few others were coaxed out of cover by a sympathetic Burgher. One large and sturdy Boer had gently taken him by the hand like a child and led him protectively to the summit. There are always those who do not glory in war. Then sadly there are others – for some surviving soldiers were threatened with death if they did not hand over their watches and valuables.
Perhaps naively – I would like to focus attention on what Amajuba means in isiZulu – ‘Place of the Dove’. What a sad irony that the heights that have always echoed to the soft cooing of gentle and peace-loving grey doves and rock pigeons, had to be shattered by rifle shot and the shouts of suffering from those horridly wounded and dying. I have often wondered – did any of the Transvaalers or local British Settlers or the British Officers who knew the meaning of the name, ever pause in their apparently confident strides, and consider, even for a moment? For many must surely have known that the symbol for the Holy Spirit of God and of Peace is the lowly dove. I have no desire to sound preachy or naive – but Majuba for me holds a strong and powerful message of Redemption. For history and the mistakes of our fathers cannot be reversed. Majuba should then and now, not be celebrated to promote crass nationalism, nor should it be used then or now as a rallying point to revenge. Rather, its heights and name should remind us once again of Calvary.
A drawing from 1881 of Majuba being viewed by British troops.
An dramatic illustration of Majuba, portrayed in a rather Mount Sinai-like fashion.
Photograph of Majuba with the Railway line and bridge.
Majuba and Steam Locomotive pulling a Train up the pass, photographed in 1903 after the Anglo-Boer War.
A long distance photographic view of Majuba.
A photograph of Majuba and Laing’s Nek, 1903.
A painting by the Dutch Artist Pierneef of Majuba.
A bird’s-eye-illustration of Majuba to the left and the road leading up to Lang’s Nek in the middle. The Battle of Laing’s Nek happened primarily to the right of the road, with the prominence to the right of the road carrying the name Deale’s Hill (Also Engelbrecht’s Kop).
A watercolour painting of Inkwelo Mountain in the foreground and Majuba Mountain in the distance.
A charming pen and kink drawing of a steam locomotive and train puffing down the escarpment past Majuba Mountain.
Ducks enjoying a paddle in a cool mountain pond with Majuba Mountain in the far distance.
A drawing looking south over the village of Charlestown and with Majuba Mountain in the background.
A photograph of Zulu Beehive huts and with Majuba in the background.
A view of Majuba Mountain with a Zulu kraal in the foreground.
Zulu huts with Majuba in the background.
The Mail Train passing Majuba Mountain, 1900 Anglo-Boer War.
A Boer Commando alongside Majuba Mountain in 1899, 2nd Anglo-Boer War.
Majuba mountain and rail line, 1899.
An engraving of Majuba Mountain and Gangers on the railine, 1899, based on the photograph above.
An illustration of Majuba Mountain.
A drawing of Majuba executed in 1881, the year of the battle.
An illustration of Inkwelo Mountain in the middle ground, with Majuba Mountain in the far distance, executed in 1900.
A tinted photograph of Majuba Mount and showing O’Neil’s Cottage and Farm.
Majuba Mountain viewed from the garden of O’Neil’s Cottage, ‘Stonewall’.
The headstones of Richard Charles O’Neil and his wife Eliabeth Maria O’Neil nee’Crouse, with Majuba Mountain in the background, Farm Stonewall.
A photographic view of Majuba.
(above) An illustration of the first Natal Government Railway’s locomotive and train, heading inland to Charlestown after the completion of the railway from Durban to the Transvaal border, with Majuba in the background
An illustration of Majuba Mountain, showing Colley’s Camp at Mount Prospect, 1881.
Majuba Mountain, Place of Doves.
A photographic view looking upward to the summit of Majuba.
A view of the summit of Majuba.
A photographic view of the summit of Majuba.
A painting of Majuba.
An illustration of the Quarry being worked on the southern slopes of Majuba, 1896.
Drawing of Majuba showing positions of military interest.
A artist’s aerial view of the district above Newcastle, looking north.
(above) A pencil drawing of the accent of Majuba in the early hours.
British troops flee Majuba 1881
(above and below) Burghers at the Boer Camp near Charlestown, with Majuba in the background, 2nd Anglo-Boer War years, 1899.
Last Battle of Majuba and Almon’s Nek, 2nd Anglo-Boer War, Northern Natal 1900. In these actions the Boers were systematically driven out of Natal.
Soldiers refresh themselves from a spring on the way to the summit of Majuba, 2nd Anglo-Boer War years. courtesy Northhampton Museum Sevices.
War Memorials on the summit of Majuba.
(Above and Below) Memorial to Cornwallis Maude, aged 28, 58th Regiment, Majuba summit, photographed 2nd Anglo-Boer War years .
Summit of Majuba Mountain showing graves of Capt Maube and soldiers, illustrated 1881.
Memorial to the 92nd Regiment, Gordon Highlanders, Mujaba summit, courtest Northhampton Museum Services, Photographed 2nd Anglo-Boer War years.
The remains of the original wooden cross erected by the 92nd Gordon Highlander’s. Majuba.
Monument of the 58th Regiment, atop Majuba, showing signs of desecration.
A charming and unusual photograph recording a visit to the summit of Majuba by Alfred Perkins (immediate right of monument) and party, including three women, a child and a dog. 1910’s. Courtesy of Megan Pagonis.
Mount Prospect Military Graveyard, with Majuba mount in the background, photographed 1890.
Mount Prospect Graveyard and Majuba, photographed in 1903.
Gen, Colley’s Grave, showing signs of desecration 21 years later in 1902, Mount Prospect Graveyard, Majuba.
Captain Clew’s grave, Mount Prospect Graveyard, Majuba, 1902.
(above) The burial of General Colley at mount Prospect.
Monument to the 92nd Gordon Highlanders at Mount Prospect Graveyard.
Mount Prospect Camp.
A map of Northern Natal.
Map of Battle of Majuba.
Map showing the summit of Majuba, with positions and movements of troops.
Map of Majuba showing the rout taken by British Troops.
Map of Northern Natal.
A crass postcard about the Avenging of Majuba.
An illustration of the Quarry being worked on the southern slopes of Majuba, 1896.
Sketch by Trooper G. Simon of the Natal Carbineers of Gen Buller meeting Christiaan Botha, bro. to Louis Botha, Majuba, 1900.
Summit of Majuba viewed from Oneil Cottage and Graveyard.