(03 April 1964 / Johannesburg, South Africa)

The Ballade Of The Umzinyati

(after A. G. Visser)

At Dingaan's big kraal Ngungunhlovu there are many fires that burn
where all regiments of his impi does gather from all across Zululand,
in front of Dingaan, Inhela and Dambuza they make the bullhorn half-moon
hit thundering with war-clubs on shields with spears in the hand.

King Dingaan's command to his army is short and forthright:
"Exterminate the white dogs, let the vultures have a feast with them! "
"Bayete, " ten thousand shout the kingly salute thundering wild
and the whole undefeated impi does march to the Umzinyati River.

In the Voortrekker laager everyone has risen before first light
and everything is prepared but the men and women kneel down in prayer,
four hundred and seventy men are ready with their blunderbusses,
do make a covenant with the omnipotent Lord God to rescue them.

Out of the fog the Zulu impi rise up and do form their deadly half-moon,
gather in regimental formation to stand in their fighting lines,
like a sea in tempest that does prepare to bring about shattering destruction
before their war cry "dingiswayo dinizulu" goes out thundering.

Suddenly the whole impi charge forward at the insistence of their generals,
where assegais like a swarm of angry bees do hang high in the air
deadly downward do decent into the wagons and around the Boers
but the shooting and loading and shooting of expert riflemen do catch the impi off guard

while the women and children do melt lead for more bullets at the fires,
thousands do charge forward to stab and to hit killing blows and to enforce themselves
when almost unstoppable they do come in their onslaught
in their thousands in their murderous heroic violence.

In their hearts the men and woman that do defend the laager do pray
that the Lord God must help to stop this horde
and before nightfall the water of the Umzinyati River is red with blood
while not a single Zulu does come and the Lord God is being honoured.

At Ngungunhlovu the first messenger does run in with speed:
"They are breaking the half-moon of the bullhorn from a distance,
do shoot us apart before we do come in stabbing distance with the assegais
but we are far too many and are going to wipe them out and slaughter them for this."

At his kraal Ngungunhlovu, Dingaan waits on further tidings of the battle
his second messenger does tell:"it's the judgement-day of the "Unkulunkulu, "
it's a gigantic slaughtering where the "Umzinyati" is full of Zulu blood
and the great might of the whole impi is totally broken.'

The third messenger does carry the wounded Dambuza on his back:
"take flight great king, go back to the mountains,
flee before they come to burn down Ngungunhlovu to the ground,
the "Unkulunkulu" is with the enemy and they are fierce and formidable."

[References: "Bloedrivier" (Blood River)and "Uzinyati" by A. G. Visser.Poet's notes:"Uzinyati" which is a part of the title of the poem is the Zulu name for the Buffalo River now known as Blood River.Inhela and Dambuza were the captains (here the generals)of Dingaan."Voortrekker is a pioneer and it's a name given to the South African Dutch settlers, known as Boers or Afrikaners, in the Cape Colony (modern Cape Provinces)who migrated north into the interior of South Africa and away from Cape Colony and British rule in what became known as the Great Trek."A laager "is a camp or encampment formed by a circle of wagons.""Dingiswayo dinizulu" means "leave no one alive."The "Unkulunkulu" is the Great Great, the Upper being and omnipotent Lord God.An impi here does refer to a whole tribal army with different regiments making it up.Usually a kraal is a rural village but here it does refer to a large compound in which the Zulu king did live with some of his regiments of soldiers and his many wives. An assegai is a slender iron tipped spear of hard wood especially used by South African native peoples.]

© Gert Strydom

by Gert Strydom

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