On 16 December 1838 a small force of Voortrekkers avenged the massacre of Piet Retief by crushing an army of 12,000 Zulu. More than 3000 Zulu died – the river ran red with their blood – while the Voortrekkers sustained a few casualties. The battle became a seminal event in Afrikaner history, seen as proof that the Boers had a divine mandate to ‘civilise’ Southern Africa, and that they were, in fact, a chosen people.
It has been argued that the importance of Blood River was deliberately heightened and manipulated for political ends. The standard interpretation of the victory meshed with the former apartheid regime’s world view: untrustworthy black savages beaten by Boers on an Old Testament–style mission from God.
The story of this historic battle is told at two rewarding sites, the Blood River Heritage Site and Ncome Museum, which speak from the perspective of the Voortrekkers and Zulus respectively.