Don’t mention the Zulu Wars on The Tube

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | January 23, 2018 0

Transport for London workers were accused of “celebrating colonialism” on a Tube station notice board in footage shared by singer Lily Allen.

The message, posted on one of TfL’s service information boards in north-east London, detailed the British and colonial troops’ defence of Rorke’s Drift in South Africa in 1879.  The LDN singer, 32, shared footage of a member of staff at Dollis Hill station rubbing off the notice on Tuesday. In the footage, a woman’s voice can be heard saying: “That [the notice board] is supposed to be for uplifting comments, not for celebrating colonialism, so I’m glad you’re wiping it off.” TfL has since apologised to those who were offended by the message, saying the message was “clearly ill-judged”.

A spokesman for the transport body said: “We apologise to any customers who were offended by the message on the whiteboard at Dollis Hill today. Our staff across the network share messages on these boards, but in this instance the message was clearly ill-judged. We are speaking with our staff to remind them of what is and isn’t acceptable.” The footage was viewed more than 11,000 times in less than an hour after the musician shared it with her 5.94million Twitter followers.

The message read: “On this day in history: On the 22-23 of January 1879 in natal South Africa, a small British garrison named Rorke’s Drift was attack [sic] by 4,000 Zulu warriors. The garrison was successfully defended by just over 150 British and colonial troops. Following the battle, eleven men were awarded the Victoria Cross.” Alongside the footage of the member of TfL staff rubbing off the notice, Miss Allen wrote: “too right”.

Rorke’s Drift was a mission station and the former trading post of James Rorke, an Irish merchant. More than 150 British and colonial troops defended the garrison against an assault by 3,000 to 4,000 Zulu warriors. Eleven Victoria Crosses, along with a number of other decorations and honours, were awarded to those who defended it successfully.

There was no mention on the TfL notice board of the Battle of Isandlwana on the same day, 22nd of January 1879, which was was one of the most devastating defeats suffered by Britain at the hands of local inhabitants. A Zulu Impala inflicted on Britain its worst defeat against an indigenous foe with vastly inferior military, British and colonial troops were armed with the modern Martini-Henry breech-loading rifle and two 7-pounder (3-inch, 76 mm) mountain guns deployed as field guns, as well as a Hale rocket battery. The battle was a decisive victory for the Zulus and caused the defeat of the first British invasion of Zululand. No kudos here for the brave Zulu Nation battling against the odds to defend its land from a foreign invader motivated by greed?

The Anglo-Zulu War was fought in 1879 between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom. Following Lord Carnarvon’s successful introduction of federation in Canada, it was thought that similar political effort, coupled with military campaigns, might succeed with the African kingdoms, tribal areas and Boer republics in South Africa. In 1874, Sir Henry Bartle Frere was sent to South Africa as High Commissioner for the British Empire to bring such plans into being. Among the obstacles were the presence of the independent states of the South African Republic and the Kingdom of Zululand and its army.

Frere, on his own initiative, without the approval of the British government or telling the Prime Minister Disraeli and with the intent of instigating a war with the Zulu, had presented an ultimatum on 11 December 1878, to the Zulu king Cetshwayo with which the Zulu king could not comply, including disbanding his army and abandoning key cultural traditions.

The Zulu Wars and the subsequent Boer Wars were about Britain centralising their control of South African resources in a land rich with gold and diamonds. To enable this they painted the Zulu King and Kingdom in racist terms as beset with savagery and itself an aggressor as it was an obstacle (as were the Boer Republics) to the colonial project of a South African Confederation.

From the point of view of modern international law, the war was an unprovoked act of aggression. It is also likely that Britain wanted to extend her power in the region to protect shipping to India. The British also learned from Zulu tactics, and, towards the end of the war, gave no quarter, burning homes and crops and laying the land to waste. Given the imperial rhetoric that the British and other Europeans had a moral responsibility to govern Africa until Africans were mature enough to govern themselves, this immoral war suggests that their real motive was somewhat less noble. Even in defeat, the Zulus enjoyed a reputation for their nobility and military skills.

We, and South Africa, have lived with the legacy of oppression and racism and the lies told by a self interested Colonial power in a land which was not theirs.

The Skibbereen Eagle

The Skibbereen Eagle

In 1898, to widespread bemusement, a small Provincial Newspaper in an equally small town in the South West corner of Ireland sonorously warned the Czar of Russia that it knew what he was up to and he should be careful how he proceeded for “The Skibbereen Eagle” was wise to his game and in future would be keeping its eye on him! It is doubtful that Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, even noticed the Eagle’s admonitions but as history soon proved he should have paid closer attention to the Eagle’s insightful opinions!

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