A detailed overview of the history of KwaZulu-Natal: From Stone Age to Hard Won Democracy

A detailed overview of the history of KwaZulu-Natal: From Stone Age to Hard Won Democracy

From Stone Age to Hard Won Democracy

The 'discovery' by New Millennium scientists of a so-called 'dream drug for dieters' once again highlighted the contemporary importance of our Zulu Kingdom's fascinating history - these experts acknowledging that the 'magic potion' in question is derived from a rare succulent known to our indigenous inhabitants for thousands of years. Anthropologists, in turn, were quick to point out the value of continuing to unlock the secrets of antiquity, in particular of a people who carried to their collective grave an intimate wisdom of this environment.

A Free Reign

These original caretakers of our natural wonders were the ancient San people, labelled 'pygmies' then 'bushmen' by successive generations of European historians. The San instinctively understood the need to tread softly among the life-sustaining bounties contained within breathtaking boundary landmarks. The vast majority of these are today protected within our enviable network of sanctuaries where visitors revel among timeless beauty. Fossil beds dating back some 90 million years offer underwater dreamlands to snorkellers and scuba divers at the Trafalgar Marine Reserve along our lower South Coast and Zululand's Greater St Lucia Wetland Park and World Heritage Site. The latter made modern natural history at the dawn of the 21st Century when 'living fossils' - coelacanths - were discovered off its warm Indian Ocean shoreline. Yet further north beyond St Lucia and a little inland, the Lebombo Mountains present fascinating geological evidence of a continent 'shape-shifting', plus meaningful insights into the evolution of humankind. More of this particular region shortly, along with our natural and anthropological piece de resistance - the mighty Drakensberg mountain range encapsulated within our most recently proclaimed World Heritage Site, the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park.



It was, then, within a spectacular arena teeming with wildlife that the San evolved from Early Stone Age beginnings around one-and-a-half million years ago. The small-framed, ochre-skinned hunter-gatherers were 'organised' into clans and loosely connected family groups, following seasonal game migrations between mountains and coast. While the San are best known for the Drakensberg rock paintings of their Later Stone Age period beginning some 30 000 years ago, the Border Caves found in the aforementioned Lebombo Mountains show evidence of continuous human occupation for some 150 000 years. These are among the oldest Homo sapiens remains on earth, and one school of thought further suggests that our Border Caves witnessed humankind's first use of fire and burial of the dead!


Life on the Range

When not spending summers based in cool mountain caves, the San chose to 'overnight' beneath rocky overhangs or in temporary shelters of branches and antelope skins, tracking their plentiful prey en route to warmer winters oceanside. These nomadic people neither domesticated animals nor cultivated crops - the need had never arisen - but their knowledge of both flora and fauna was nonetheless encyclopedic. The San 'classified' thousands of plants and their uses, from nutritional to medicinal, mystical to recreational and lethal. The 'slimming potion' promulgated by today's scientists once served as an appetite-suppressant for San hunting-parties, who believed it inappropriate to eat before returning bounty-laden to the women, children and elderly of their clan or family unit.

Art Imitates Life

Tribute to the life-sustaining environment was paid via the rock paintings that currently attract thousands of visitors annually to our Drakensberg mountains. These formerly threatened treasures, now impeccably preserved for future generations, further show how antelope and various other creatures came to permeate the San's spirit world, their presence representing the difference between life and death in the earthly sphere. Highlight of the Drakensberg 'San- experience' is undoubtedly the Main Caves Museum, where audio- visual and standing displays depict the 'home-life' of these tragic nomads, although more than 500 caves have thus far been extensively surveyed, and some 30 000 paintings catalogued and their meanings deduced. The series of disastrous developments that first impinged upon, then overtook and finally drove to extinction the San of this region are frighteningly vivid among these.

Beginning of the End

The arrival in their uncontested realm of black peoples from east- central Africa was the San's first harbinger of doom - recounted in greater detail within our History of the Zulu Nation. When the Iron Age dawned in the Great Lakes region around two thousand years ago, it ushered in a time of plenty for the black races labelled 'Bantu' by early European anthropologists. This term, derived from the Zulu collective noun for 'people', became used in scholarly circles to differentiate black languages from the click- tongues of light brown hunter-gatherers to the south. Among the Bantu tribes were our Zulu ancestors - the Nguni people - named after the charismatic figure who in a previous epoch had led a migration from Egypt to the Great Lakes via the Red Sea corridor and Ethiopia. The new Iron Age sophistication bred a population explosion of both people and livestock, leading to the inevitable quest for expanded territory. Heading south and southeast, the first Iron Age 'invaders' collided with Later Stone Age San by at least the 3rd Century of our Common Era.

Harmony at First

The initial impact on the hunter-gatherers was not altogether devastating, for although the black clans established fairly large villages, cultivated crops and demarcated grazing areas for their domesticated livestock, there remained land aplenty for the San to pursue their timeless traditions. These ancient ways actually received some benefit from the arrowheads and harvesting tools born of the Iron Age mining and metalworking skills. Harmony prevailed as trade relations were set in place, and even the blood relations of inter-marriage, but the relatively idyllic compromise was destined to last no more than 200 years.

Sheer Weight of Numbers

Nguni people now infiltrated seaward of the Lebombo Mountains in ever- increasing numbers, placing the San's delicately balanced lifestyle under extreme pressure. Many black clans put down roots in our lush northeastern quadrant and were united under the king who lent the region its enduring name - Maputaland. The first San to be displaced were thus the millennia-long inhabitants of the earlier-mentioned Border Caves... 

There was, at this point, not even a family named 'Zulu' among the Nguni-speakers, let alone all-conquering empire builders, but the San were nevertheless forced to retreat further and further towards their Drakensberg mountain fastness. Driven to thieving stock from their Nguni 'neighbours' by this loss of animal migration grounds, the San soon witnessed black attitudes towards them deteriorate from a grudging tolerance to outright hostility and a xenophobia that belittled their 'primitive' language and was suspicious of their perceived 'sorcery'.

The Christening and Heaven

By the time Portugal's ship-borne explorer Vasco da Gama sighted our coastline on Christmas Day, 1497, and duly named it Natal, the first clan to bear the title 'Zulu' would only recently have come into existence. The son of Malandela, and bearing a name that translates as 'Heaven', Zulu had followed the traditional path of marrying and leaving home to establish his own clan soon after coming of age. His settlement thus became the first kwaZulu - 'Place of Heaven' - and its inhabitants the amaZulu - 'People of Heaven'. Zulu's most famous descendant, Shaka, was destined to impact on this land as profoundly as the European and British adventurers who followed in Vasco da Gama's path-finding wake.

Bad News Travels Fast

Portugal itself began colonising only to the north of our eventual border, but word-of-mouth accounts of these incursions and the havoc they'd wreaked soon drifted south to become common knowledge among the Nguni. The future Zulu nation's first encounters with white people were thus stranded Portuguese nationals with a 'bad reputation', whose ships began sinking along our coast en route to Portugal's new territories stretching from East Africa to India. As a result, these sailors and passengers found no warm welcome on our shores, and their diaries speak of 'unimaginable privations and sorrows' and 'dying in the Faith despite humiliation and agony'. The St. Lucia region of today's Zululand was thus named after their Patron Saint of Light by hapless Portuguese desperate to find a clear path north to relative safety. News of these grim encounters spread throughout seafaring Europe and across the Channel, and the first English mariners to be shipwrecked here would surely have recalled them and been filled with dread.

Attitudes Change

These terrified Englishmen were aboard the Good Hope, driven ashore at Port Natal-Durban on 6 May, 1685. After making camp on our prominent headland known as the Bluff, the crew travelled far inland and to their immense relief 'found the people everywhere both friendly and hospitable'. Historians have suggested that by this time the 'novelty and accompanying fear' of white men had worn off. Two more ships were wrecked in close proximity within a year, and crews of the English vessel Bonaventura and Dutch merchantman Stavenisse joined forces with the Good Hope's complement to build their safe passage to Cape Town. Logbooks record that local inhabitants 'vied with each other in offering the white sailors food, drink and their habitations for lodging'. The master of a second Dutch ship, the Noord, was pleased to report a similar experience after visiting the port in January 1689, and later that year, a Captain Rogers of England encountered 'an extraordinary civility towards strangers'.

Pleasant Enough to Purchase

Port Natal-Durban and its potentially strategic value plus new, welcoming reputation, were becoming increasingly well known, suggesting to owners of the Dutch East India Company that the time was now ripe to acquire it. They ordered the Noord to return with instructions to buy the port for goods to the nominal value of between 19- and 20-thousand guilders. These 'goods' were the trinkets deemed almost worthless by European standards, yet proffered as highly valuable currency throughout the history of 'bartering' with indigenous peoples. Records later proved that local headman, Chief Inyangesi, ceded Port Natal-Durban to the Noord's master for baubles worth only one thousand guilders! The Dutch East India Company never followed up signing of the agreement with 'effective occupation' - necessary under international law of the time to claim ownership rights to the territory in question. They did, however, send the Postlooper on a reconnaissance mission in 1705, only to be told by Inyangesi's son - who'd by now assumed the mantle of chief - that the deal was null and void as he was not responsible for his father's word. While vociferously maintaining ownership of Port Natal-Durban to anyone who'd listen, the Dutch never pursued being 'double- crossed' by the new chief - perhaps because they were fully aware of the original transaction's dubious nature. 

Voortrekker Tears

Boer leader Pieter Retief rode into Durban on 19 October 1837 to inform settlers there that his people had finally embarked on their 'Great Trek' from British dominion in the Cape Colony. The ox- wagons of those intent on entering Zulu territory were preparing to cross the Drakensberg's high passes while Retief was enjoying a cordial reception at the port, and the charismatic Afrikaaner told his hosts of driving off the regiments of Mzilikatzi before approaching the mountainous natural border. Retief's wide-eyed audience was not alone in being impressed by this victory, for the news had not surprisingly also reached King Dingane. The report conveyed to the Zulu monarch, however, differed from the first-hand account related by Retief in one significant aspect - Dingane was told the heavily outnumbered Voortrekkers had relied on sorcery in addition to firearms. This appears to have changed the course of history, for although the Zulu king may have acted on any number of motives, he had Pieter Retief and 101 of his Boer followers put to death with an order to 'kill the wizards!' The mass murder took place on 6 February 1838 within the royal settlement at uMgungundlovu, after Retief had led his people over the mountains and 'successfully' negotiated for land with Dingane. A signed document found some ten months later on Retief's corpse showed that Dingane had 'ceded' Port Natal, the Durban settlement and surrounds to Voortrekker control - the exact territory for which British settlers held a similar scroll, but signed by King Shaka.

Dingane followed the murder of Pieter Retief and party with the almost total annihilation of Boer families encamped within easy reach of his royal kraal, in an area that lives on as the 'Place of Weeping'.

Revenge and Assassination

Blood was now destined to flow for almost three-quarters of a century, involving people from all over the globe, and our world famous Battlefieldsare today an expertly managed network of historic towns and museums, fields of supreme sacrifice and places of pilgrimage.

Prominent among these is Blood River where, on December 1838, the Voortrekkers finally exacted their revenge on the Zulu military and its king. Prior to this, the decimated Boers had suffered another defeat, as had a makeshift force of English sympathisers hastily assembled in Durban and marched north across the Thukela River. The latter was bolstered by hundreds of Zulu 'deserters' - many armed with guns - who'd been allowed to remain in asylum at the port despite Gardiner's infamous deal with Dingane. Partly because of their presence, it's been suggested, the Zulu king ordered his troops to attack Durban immediately once he'd routed these invaders.

At the time, the settlement's few remaining whites took refuge on the brig Comet, anchored in the bay, and watched Dingane's impi pillage and burn for nine days. A few walls were left standing, but all their contents utterly destroyed, and Durban needed rebuilding from the ground up.

So, too, did Dingane's capital, which he put to the torch and hastily vacated after learning that the Boers had slaughtered his army at Blood River. He fled north, and with what remained of his 'home guard' attempted to occupy the Swazi kingdom. He failed and was eventually assassinated among that country's border forests.

New Enemy for the Boers

En route from crossing the Drakensberg mountains to their ill-fated meeting with Dingane, Pieter Retief and the Voortrekkers had earmarked the site of their capital-to-be, and laid a neat foundation grid of streets and lanes. Pietermaritzburg was thus named as a tribute to both Pieter Retief's 'martyrdom' and the Boer's second- wave leader, Gert Maritz. Having discovered the 'document of ownership' on Retief's remains, the Boers felt justifiably aggrieved when news reached them of a re-bolstered British garrison established in Durban. Many civilians accompanied the Redcoats, and they soon began pioneering a route inland - towards Pietermaritzburg. Our Valley of a Thousand Hills and Midlands overviews trace the steps of this expansion that ultimately saw the Voortrekkers abandon their capital before the end of 1843. 

In a last-ditch attempt to salvage their new 'homeland', however, the Boers headed seawards and laid siege to the British garrison alongside Durban harbour. The historic, coast-hugging ride for reinforcements of Dick King and his young tracker Ndongeni are well documented in our South Coast travelogue. Fresh troops duly arrived from the Cape Colony, causing the Boers to flee Durban and ultimately forsake Pietermaritzburg too.

Crown Protection

Natal was formally annexed to the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope - and thus officially cared for by the Queen of England - on 31 May 1844. The 31st of May was to gain increasing historic value, for Natal became a Province of the Union of South Africa on that day in 1910, and a Province of the Republic of South Africa on the same day 51 years after that.

Returning to 31 May 1844, the annexation saw King Mpande of the Zulu switch allegiance from Boer to Brit. He'd sided with the former after their victory at Blood River, in exchange for assistance in claiming the throne left vacant by his half-brother Dingane's flight to the north. Mpande signed a British-authored document naming him 'King of the Zulu Nation', even though it limited Zulu territory to 'north of the Thukela River'. This allowed for safe expansion of Colonial agriculture to the north of Durban, and our Sugar Coast and adjoining Dolphin Coast are filled with fascinating Zulu and pioneer sites, including the first sugar cane plantations. Boer leaders were incensed by these developments and embarked on yet another exodus, the rigours and tragedies of their Great Trek having resulted only in further British dominion. The seeds of their War of Independence and the Anglo-Boer War were truly sown...

Zulu Nation at War

Having indulged in the by now familiar 'purge-and-puppet' techniques of his predecessors, King Mpande successfully invaded Swaziland in 1852, seeking stand-by territory should he lose Zululand completely to either Brit or Boer. The purge having already sent thousands of refugees across the Thukela River into protective British arms, Colonial authorities now foresaw an added, massive influx of displaced Swazi people. British negotiators eventually persuaded Mpande to withdraw his army, only to experience a new wave of asylum seekers four years later when civil war erupted in Zululand. This was the 'Battle of the Princes' between followers of Mpande's sons Cetshwayo and Mbuyazi, each of whom laid claim to the future Zulu throne. The latter was found among the thousands who finally lay dead, and Cetshwayo immediately set about usurping the authority of his aged father.

A New People Arrive

This instability among the Zulu people, plus Colonial measures to restrict their comings-and-goings and the unwillingness of Zulu men to perform 'women's work' in the fields, all contributed to a growing call - bring indentured labour from India to toil in the fledgeling sugar plantations. After much debate among the settlers and lengthy negotiations with the Indian government - details of which appear in our History of Indian Settlement the Truro disembarked 342 passengers in Durban on 16 November 1860. She was followed ten days later by the Belvedere, carrying the same number of indentured workers, and in the course of the next half century, 384 ships would deliver an estimated 152 184 indentured and 'free' Indians to play a vital role in shaping the character of Natal.

Another King, Another War

King Mpande's sphere of influence and health rapidly declined until he died - of natural causes, against the norm - in late 1872. The circumstances and conditions attached to Prince Cetshwayo's subsequent 'coronation' by agents of Queen Victoria are detailed in our History of the Zulu Nation, as are blow-by-blow accounts of the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War that followed Cetshwayo's alleged disregard of these stipulations. Zululand and our Battlefields are brim-filled with opportunities to witness the arena where, for six months, British firepower was pitted against the numbers and sheer bravery of spear-wielding Zulu soldiers in a brutal slogging match. The greatest number of Victoria Crosses for a single engagement were awarded here, while the enormous death toll included visiting observer and great-nephew of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, the Imperial Prince Louis.

Breaking the Kingdom

Cetshwayo's army was finally defeated on 4 July 1879 at the Battle of Ulundi, and his royal homestead burned to the ground, but the king survived and fled north with his 11-year-old heir, Dinizulu. With their king in hiding and remnants of the impis in total disarray, the Zulu people were informed by Colonial authorities that their kingdom was now a thing of the past. Cetshwayo was captured a month later and exiled to Cape Town, while Britain split Zululand into 13 autonomous chiefdoms to stifle any 'resurgence of royalty'. With the centralised military destroyed, and a 'divide- and-rule' policy effectively in place, the British believed that matters were at last under control. Settler expansion continued along the north and south coasts as well as inland, testing the boundaries of Zululand and simultaneously aggravating the Boers who'd watched the Anglo-Zulu War with keen, vested interest.

First War of Independence

These were the Boers of Natal, kith and kin to the Voortrekkers who'd chosen not to cross the Drakensberg mountains into Zulu territory, but instead to remain inland and head north. Once beyond the Vaal River they'd proclaimed their independent Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek - also known as the Transvaal.

Annexure of their 'country' soon afterwards, by Sir Theophilus Shepstone in the name of the Crown, caused widespread resentment. After repeated, failed attempts to regain their independence through negotiation, the Boer republic declared war on Britain in late 1880. Durban witnessed a massing of British troops, who were then marched to Newcastle near the Transvaal border. Visitors to this northernmost sector of our Battlefields can 're-live' the Redcoats' changing fortunes there, from their initial failure to break through into Boer-held territory to the tide-changing Battle of Majuba. The armistice was signed in March 1881 at the base of Majuba Mountain, followed soon after by a peace treaty signed in Newcastle. These, in turn, led to the Pretoria Convention of October the same year - a document never wholly acceptable to the Boers and containing the seeds of future carnage.

Zulus on the Move 

The amaZulu had by now settled the White Umfolozi river valley under the chieftainship of their progenitor's great-grandson, Ndaba kaPhunga - The Man of Affairs. They continued to live a peaceful existence when the mantle of leadership was passed to Jama - He of the Stern Countenance - even though crucial power struggles were developing all around them as paramount chiefs began dreaming of statehood. The Zulu chiefdom was still small, relatively insignificant and subordinate to the surrounding, more powerful leaders. It was, however, strategically placed between the two most rapacious of these when, in 1787, Shaka was born to the Zulu people s new leader, Senzangakhona - He Who Acts With Good Reason - and his wife Nandi - The Sweet One. Shaka's somewhat unflattering name resulted from his mother conceiving before official recognition as the new chief's wife. Her increasingly obvious pregnancy was unconvincingly dismissed as affliction by an intestinal beetle known in traditional medical circles as a 'shaka'. That name was duly bestowed on the baby at his birth.

The Rise of Shaka Zulu

Although his father's eldest son, Shaka's ill-timed arrival denied him heir-apparent status, but he soon displayed signs of courage and budding military genius enough to attract the patronage of overlord chief Dingiswayo - one of the two paramount leaders seeking total dominion over all Nguni-speaking clans. And after Shaka had orchestrated the murder of his younger brother and 'legitimate' heir to the Zulu throne, Dingiswayo lent a military force to ensure that Shaka siezed control upon the death in 1816 of his father Senzangakhona. Shaka repaid Dingiswayo's faith with regional military successes against his patron's enemies, but when Dingiswayo was killed and his territory overrun by Ndwandwe regiments, Shaka found himself the sole object of their plans for supremacy. Neither the Ndwandwe nor any other grouping proved any match for the ruler dubbed Africa's 'Black Napoleon'. While the finer points of Shaka's innovative battle strategies and his all-conquering exploits are contained within our History of the Zulu Nation, suffice to say here that when the English brig Salisbury took refuge in Port Natal-Durban harbour in 1823, her complement stepped ashore in the Kingdom of the Zulu.

English Reminders

Many of the key Colonial figures from this point onwards can still be 'encountered' today while exploring downtown Durban and its metropolitan surrounds, where streets, memorial parks and even suburbs carry their names for posterity's sake.

To begin with, Salisbury Island in the centre of Durban Harbour was named after his ship by James Saunders King. Military commander aboard the Salisbury was Lieutenant Francis Farewell who, after deciding to establish a permanent trading post at the port, returned to the Cape Colony and secured the support of an English businessman based there. Two ships were ordered to set sail for Port Natal-Durban, with the tiny sloop Julia arriving first in May 1824. She carried only six passengers, to one of whom - Henry Francis Fynn - is owed much of our knowledge of the settlement's early days.

Realising that the main party of 26 adventurers, aboard the troopship Antelope, would not reach their destination for another two months, Fynn devised a highly ambitious plan.

Into kwaZulu

Knowing full well of King Shaka's all-encompassing might and the dangers inherent in attempting to establish a settlement at the port without the monarch's approval, Fynn set out on foot to look for Shaka. Accompanied only by two local Zulus and a 'Hottentot' servant brought with him from the Cape Colony, Fynn soon encountered a large contingent of spear-wielding Zulu soldiers. Standing alone after watching his party flee into the bush, Fynn could but point towards the ocean from which he'd come and repeat the name 'Shaka' again and again. His pleading worked, and Fynn was provided with an escort and allowed to continue, along with his companions who re-materialised once the danger had passed. They never reached the royal kraal, however, for a search party from the port caught up with them, bearing news that Farewell had arrived with the 26 settlers.

The Search Resumes

In early August 1824, Fynn and Farewell plus a few attendants embarked on the second overland journey in hopes of meeting the King of the Zulus. En route, they portentously encountered an ill Zulu woman, and the curative properties of Fynn's first-aid kit ensured a warm reception when the party finally arrived at Shaka's royal homestead a few weeks later. No treaties were discussed during this initial contact and the English expedition returned to the port - without Fynn, who stayed on at Shaka's insistence. Perhaps the king had experienced a premonition, for an attempt was made on Shaka's life soon thereafter, recovery from which was largely due to Fynn's already-revered first-aid kit.

Repaying Their Kindness

Still later the same month, Farewell returned to escort Fynn back to the port from Shaka's royal seat, and as highest ranking military officer, was rewarded by the Zulu king with 'chieftainship' of Port Natal-Durban and its environs. Armed with this document naming 'Farewell and Company', the lieutenant hoisted the Union Jack, fired a cannon salute and formally took possession in the name of Great Britain on 27 August 1824. It was without doubt not Shaka's intention to renounce sovereignty to King George IV, but the die was cast. Captain of the Salisbury, James King, was within a couple of years to become Shaka's favourite, and through him the Zulu monarch first attempted to broker relations with his English counterpart. Shaka declared a new treaty, in which James King ascended to 'chief of Port Natal-Durban', and ordered its delivery to Colonial authorities in the Cape. They refused to even acknowledge receipt of the document, let alone forward it to George IV. News of this slap-in- the-face reached Shaka during the first week of September 1828, but if the Zulu king harboured any thoughts of revenge, time was against him.

Royal Revolution

The reign and life of 'Shaka the Usurper', as his Zulu detractors belittled him, came to an abrupt end on 24 September 1828 - speared to death within the royal household by his half-brothers Dingane and Mhlangane. The plot, inspired by a jealous aunt, excluded a third half-brother, the 'soft and slow-witted' Mpande. A life of mistrust and the ever-present spectre of assassination had seen Shaka refuse to sire any heir to his throne, paving an easy way for Dingane - once he'd killed off a dozen royal brothers in addition to his co-conspirators in Shaka's murder. Mpande was somehow spared, a decision that Dingane would come to regret. The new Zulu king embarked on ruthlessly consolidating his sovereignty, assassinating pro-Shaka elements and replacing them with his puppets. They, in turn, received a royal 'seal of approval' to wage vendettas of their own personal devising.

Confusion Reigns

Chaos descended on kwaZulu to a degree matching the early days of Shaka's imperialism, and the region was once again awash with refugees. Dingane was greatly displeased with developments at Port Natal-Durban, for not only was the white population there growing, but these settlers were now also providing sanctuary to thousands of his unwilling subjects. Furthermore, the English were training some in modern weaponry, and the idea of armed malcontents alongside those who believed a new British Colony had been born, was to Dingane totally unacceptable. The first white 'chief' of Port Natal and surrounds, Lieutenant Francis Farewell, was murdered in late 1829 while returning overland from the Cape Colony, and Dingane dispatched a regiment to the port settlement with orders to destroy property there. Even though the occupants were not molested during this punitive raid, their sense of security was critically undermined, and by 1831 life for the Port Natal-Durban settlers had reached its lowest ebb.

The Solace of Friends

New settlers from England began to drop anchor within a year, followed in 1834 by a pivotal event in local history - the arrival at the port of 16 Voortrekker ox-wagons. These carried the west-European descended Boers, or Afrikaaners, embittered by their treatment under British rule in the Cape Colony. The reconnaissance party was to investigate the promise of freedom in Natal so widely rumoured in their communities to the south. As the English at the port thought of themselves as somewhat independent from their Cape-based governors, they afforded the Boers a hearty welcome, sensing a kindred free spirit in their new visitors. The Boers, however, were dreaming of an independent Afrikaaner homeland free of all Englishmen - friendly or not - and soon moved off to explore the hinterland. Discovering luxuriant pasturage and well-watered soil there, they carried their good tidings back south without the violent encounters with King Dingane that would hallmark their return three years later.

Missionary Zeal

The wave of evangelic activity that began in 1835 was spearheaded by retired naval officer Captain Allen Francis Gardiner - 'he with an eye-glass'. On arrival at the port, Gardiner was immediately torn between 'reversing the moral decline there' and 'spreading the gospel of Christian salvation to the natives'. The former quest was born of stories carried back to the Cape Colony by disaffected 'puritans' - they abhorred the fact that 'Englishmen are taking heathen brides and siring a race of half-castes'. At least two clans along the South Coast of Natal today continue to bear Colonial names, while the most famous instance belongs to John Dunn, who settled the southeast corner of Zululand with 49 'local' brides in addition to his English wife. Gardiner's missionary inclinations won his inner dilemma, and he set off in the hope of establishing a mission station at Dingane's royal kraal. The king sent him packing, so Gardiner returned to the port and built his much longed-for mission on the encircling ridge with commanding views of the harbour and ocean. He named this eminence the 'Berea', because its inhabitants were 'more noble' than those of King Dingane's capital.

Naming of a Town

At a meeting on 23 June 1835, presided over by Gardiner, it was decided to declare the port settlement a town - named D Urban in honour of Cape Governor, Sir Benjamin D Urban. The area 'ceded' by King Shaka, with a radius of some hundred kilometres from the harbour mouth, would be called Victoria 'to revere our august Princess'. Signatories to the meeting requested Sir Benjamin to annex the territory in the Crown's name, but D Urban followed prescribed procedure and requested permission from England. Return correspondence from London shattered all these dreams - the English parliament was unsure of 'holding' this Victoria without sparking a war with the Zulu nation. Gardiner's Christian-ness was then seriously called into doubt when he offered King Dingane a signed promise to cease harbouring 'deserters' at the port and furthermore to forcibly return any further asylum-seekers. In exchange, Gardiner would receive another written assurance from a Zulu monarch with which to persuade London, plus immunity for his own missionary activities. History recalls at least one occasion where Gardiner personally delivered terrified 'scatterlings' into Dingane's hands. All his plans come to nought, Gardiner would leave the settlement in early 1838, and in 1851 die of starvation on the bleak shores of Tierra del Fuego, having sailed there to found a mission station. Our lush, sub-tropical shores may well have mixed memories of Captain Allen Francis Gardiner, but the name Durban is forever linked to at least one aspect of his vision and zeal.